The June 24, 2021 death of Nizar Banat, a longtime and well-known critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a few hours after his arrest by the PA's security apparatuses in Hebron, sparked widespread protest among the Palestinian public and intensified the criticism against the PA, headed by President Mahmoud 'Abbas, especially against the violence employed by its security apparatuses and its suppression of free speech and other democratic freedoms. Banat's family held the PA leadership responsible for his death, and stressed that the official statement, which claimed that he had died in hospital after "his health deteriorated," is false and that he died after being brutally beaten by the security apparatuses during his arrest. The PA hastened to announce that it had formed a committee, headed by the justice minister, to investigate Banat's death. However, Banat's family clarified that it rejected the committee and would not accept its findings, since the authorities themselves were involved in the incident, and demanded to form an international investigative committee.
Banat's death, and the PA's handling of the incident, drew widespread condemnation from elements across the Palestinian political spectrum and from Palestinian and international human rights organizations. Palestinian human rights organizations refused to take part in the government-appointed investigative committee and announced that they had formed a committee of their own to look into the affair. The incident also provoked heated mass demonstrations in West Bank cities, at which calls were heard to overthrow the PA and President 'Abbas. The protests were violently suppressed by the PA security forces and plainclothes policemen, who beat up not only protesters but also journalists who were reporting on the events. Fatah organized counter-demonstrations in support of President 'Abbas, and its activists helped the security forces to break up the anti-government protests.
Plainclothes officers beat up protesters in Ramallah (Qudsn.net, June 26, 2021)
Palestinian opposition factions, especially Hamas, were quick to exploit the events to further their political agenda and fan the flames of protests against the PA, with the aim of toppling it. Hamas issued a statement blaming the PA for Banat's death and calling it a predetermined crime which joins the PA's many other crimes and its suppression of the people's freedoms. Hamas leaders urged the masses to join the protests against the PA; similar statements were issued also by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other factions.
In light of the mass protests over Banat's death, which embarrassed the PA, and the attempts of Hamas and others to exploit the affair to their advantage, PA and Fatah officials began presenting the protests as unrest led by Hamas and nothing more. Although the protests are massive and involve not only Hamas members, PA and Fatah spokespeople claimed they were organized by "dubious elements," "traitors" and "mercenaries" with "foreign agendas" trying to stage another coup like the one in 2007.
In fact, the large scope of the protests reflects the rage and frustration of the Palestinian public. Banat's death was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back, and caused an outburst of the rage that has long been building due to many aspects of the PA's conduct, including 'Abbas's decision in late April to indefinitely postpone the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Articles published by Palestinian journalists, politicians and intellectuals following Banat's death indeed claimed that the conduct of the PA and its apparatuses in this affair reflect a long series of problems and illnesses that afflict the PA, manifested in poor management, corruption, suppression of freedoms and lack of democracy. They called on the PA and its leadership to enact reforms before it becomes too late.
The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles.
Former PA Minister: Experts Must Not Be Accused Of Treason; The PA Mishandled The Banat Affair, Needs Reform
Writing in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam daily, Fatah member Ashraf Al-'Ajrami, a former PA minister of prisoner affairs, stated that the PA's mishandling of the Banat affair is only one of many incidents of corruption and violation of democracy, and called to fix the problems before it is too late. He wrote:
"The arrest and killing of [Nizar] Banat greatly outraged Palestinian society, not only because the incident was a blatant violation of Palestinian law, but because it reflected disregard for human life, which any proper government must respect and treat as a value of supreme importance…The PA's handling of Banat's death was improper and delayed, and failed to consider public opinion and the great sensitivity of the affair, which rocked Palestinian society and threatens the stability of society and of the PA, [while jeopardizing] the PA's very existence. The PA, including its highest echelons, should have admitted from the start that a mistake had been made, taken full responsibility and declared that measures had immediately been taken, for instance that everyone involved, including high-ranking officials, had been arrested until the completion of the investigation and that the offenders had been brought to justice. Furthermore, the makeup of the investigation committee should have been inclusive, in order to reassure all the sides [involved] while also ensuring its reliability and the wide acceptance of its conclusions. Senior officials should have paid the Banat family a visit, conveyed their condolences and met all the family's needs. The PA's absence in the first days [after the incident] created a big vacuum, which everyone could exploit to further their interests.
"Banat's death may have sparked less fury if the timing had been different. The incident occurred at a time when the popularity of the PA and its leadership are at an ebb, due to the postponement of the general elections, the PA's feeble conduct during Israel's war with Gaza [i.e., the May 2021 Hamas-Israel conflict] and the horrible scandal of the vaccine deal, as well as many other problems [reflecting] poor [PA] performance, corruption and the fractured relations between the leadership and the public. All these factors conspired to give the latest incident unusual prominence and greater local and international resonance... All this was [exacerbated] by the conduct of the security [apparatuses] towards the demonstrators who protested Nizar Banat's death…
"The PA is now in a difficult situation and at a crossroads. This time it will probably manage to overcome its plight, due to the discrepancy in the protesters' goals and positions. But if another incident of this sort occurs, there is no guarantee… that the PA will be able to withstand the wave of protest and the outburst of public rage, especially since in the last few years its popularity has waned considerably, due to the executive branch's ineffectiveness and domineering [attitude], the absence of the judicial branch and of real oversight, the hobbling of the court system and the compromising of its independence and reliability, and the lack of accountability for mistakes, mismanagement and corruption in the PA institutions, and also due to restrictions on democracy and free speech.
"What [currently] prevents the situation from deteriorating into complete destruction and anarchy is that the protesters are not united in their slogans and demands… Some belong to factions that want the PA to collapse and [the West Bank] to enter a stage of anarchy that will create a situation similar to the one in Gaza… Some want to take revenge on the PA and settle scores with it, and others want to win popularity for reasons having to do with future elections. There are also influential regional elements that are involved in the protests. But the overwhelming majority of citizens are criticizing the PA because they want to reform and improve it, so that it fulfill its duties in the best possible manner. They do not want to destroy it and enter a state of anarchy. Therefore, it is inconceivable to accuse the protesters of being a fifth column or of being against the PA or Fatah…
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"The lesson to be learned from the incident is that there is need for a rapid and genuine transformation in the PA's structure and performance, so as to restore the public's faith in it. In this context, it is important to act towards forming a national unity government, although this is no easy task… The PA is a national achievement, and destroying it will not serve our people. But it must behave responsibly and develop the institutions of a democratic and civilized state."
Al-Quds Daily: The Palestinian People Thought Its Leadership Would Protect It, Not Restrict Its Freedoms
An editorial in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds criticized the killing of Nizar Banat, the suppression of the protests against him and the persecution of journalists reporting on these protests: "Yesterday we saw further aggression from the Palestinian security forces against the protesters in Ramallah, protesters who demand to prosecute the murderers of Nizar Banat and hold them to account [for killing him] just because he criticized the Palestinian authority and its security apparatuses out of concern for the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian national struggle… This aggression was directed also at the Palestinian journalists who are covering the events, which shows that the security forces continue to violate the freedom of journalism and opinion. This is a violation of the Palestinian Basic Law that ensures freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of journalists to report on events. The Palestinian journalists, who are killed, arrested and shot at by the occupation forces, do not deserve to be targeted by the PA [as well], by means of its security apparatuses...
"Our people, bending under the yoke of the occupation, thought that the PA would protect it, rather than oppress [it and restrict] its liberty and freedom of speech. If [the PA] continues to let the security forces attack citizens and journalists just for expressing their opinion, [its] conduct will place it in the same category as oppressive countries…
"We hope to see the law implemented, the security forces restrained and whoever harms freedom of thought and expression and [targets] journalists punished and held to account…
"This requires a reexamination of the laws that contravene the Palestinian Basic Law, especially since the conduct and the violations of the security forces make us look, in the eyes of the world, like [a people] that does not deserve an [independent] state. This strengthens the claim of the occupation that the Palestinians do not deserve a state and are not qualified to [rule] one. So will the situation be amended by turning to the masses and having them express their opinion in elections, as demanded by our people, who want to change the political regime, restore national unity and end the schism? Or will we remain in the vortex of internal fighting, where the occupation is trying to keep us?" 
Palestinian Politician And Women's Rights Activist: The PA Only Wishes To Appear Democratic; An Independent Investigation Is Needed
Politician and women's rights activist Rima Nazal, a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), wrote in her column in Al-Ayyam that Banat's murder must be investigated by an independent investigation committee, not by a committee appointed by the PA, which is involved in the incident. She added that this independent committee must not only investigate the incident itself and its circumstances but also submit recommendations for reforming the PA and restoring the rule of law and the freedoms of the Palestinian people.
She wrote: "It is inconceivable that the 18th [Palestinian] government [i.e., the current government] has formed an investigative committee [to look into] the horrific affair of the murder of the martyr Nizar Banat, for this government is involved in this affair, directly or indirectly, since it is responsible for the security apparatuses that raided [the house where he was staying], dragged [him away], arrested him and beat him, causing his unnatural death. It is also inconceivable that the [PA] should make a [mere] show of handling this affair, or count on time to blunt the popular rage, instead of heeding the sentiment and the demands of the public by deposing the government, protecting society and preserving public order.
"The Nizar Banat affair has become a matter of concern for the public, and it cannot be passed over… before the individual and collective rights are restored: the right of the martyr's family and the public's right [to know]. This will happen only after those responsible are held to account and brought to justice, each of them according to the extent of his responsibility, and after the function, approach and duties of the security apparatuses are redefined, which should be to protect the Palestinian people and its basic rights, and implement the law rather than violate it. For the investigation to be fair and transparent and yield results [worthy of being] brought to the public's knowledge, there is a need… to expose everyone who was responsible for giving the instructions and orders and for concocting the plan and the conspiracy, determine the extent of their responsibility, according to the law, and punish them. For it is clear that the perpetrators acted deliberately, given that [Banat] was arrested eight times in a row.
"What is expected of the committee formed by the Independent Commission for Human Rights and the [Ramallah-based human rights] Al-Haqq institution… is to complete its investigation after receiving the results of the full medical examinations, and to expand its [roster of members] by incorporating more human rights organizations and figures known for their honesty and independent [opinions] that are not influenced by the official position [of the authorities]. This [must be done] not only in order to present the public with the truth about the death of this martyr and the circumstances of the incident, but in order to submit recommendations for democratizing [the PA], amending the domestic situation and taking measures to strengthen the rule of law, the [Palestinians'] collective rights, and respect for freedom of opinion and expression, which has been compromised…
"We constantly hear that the PA fails to implement the decisions and the [international] treaties it has endorsed… The PA signed the [UN] convention against torture of every kind, and all its protocols, and even prepared its first national report [on this issue], but [the report] was never published in the official gazette. [The PA] also joined the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social [and Cultural] Rights, which all mention the right to express opinion and dissent.
"Also constantly mentioned is the fact that the PA ascribes no importance to some of its decisions that underpin its obligations towards society and its rights, such as the February 2020 presidential decree on general freedoms. Article 2 of this decree states that it is forbidden to persecute, arrest or imprison [people] for their opinion, and Article 3 calls to liberate all those who have [already] been arrested and imprisoned for their opinions. After all these decrees, decisions and agreements we discover that they all for show, and are only on paper, meant to create the [mere] appearance of democracy…
"To avoid anarchy and further schisms and rifts, the only choice we have is to immediately set a date for elections to the presidency, the Legislative Council and the local councils, so as to enact the will and the choice of the people, and subject the executive branch to oversight and hold it to account. Elections are the only safe way to rehabilitate the political regime, so that we can be free to engage in the main struggle, against the occupation…"
 Qudsn.net, alhadath.ps, alwatanvoice.ps, June 24, 2021. The Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily reported, citing Palestinian sources, that 'Abbas had instructed the security apparatuses to "silence" Banat, which was understood as permission to eliminate him. According to the sources, the security apparatuses indeed killed him after failing to silence him by other means, such as threats and extortion. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 29, 2021.
 Wafa.ps, June 24, 2021. This committee has yet to publish its findings, but its head, Justice Minister Muhammad Al-Shalaldeh, stated in a June 30, 2021 televised interview that the initial investigation indicates that Banat was indeed beaten all over his body and did not die of natural causes. Maannews.net, July 1, 2021. It has also been reported that 15 members of the PA security forces have been arrested and are being held for questioning in Jericho prison. Wattan.net, July 1, 2021.
 Maannews.net, aa.com.tr, June 28, 2021; Al-Ayyam (PA), June 29, 2021.
 Ramallah.news, June 24, 2021. The formation of the committee was announced in a Ramallah press conference by the Al-Haq human rights organization, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, and the Palestinian NGO Network. Ichr.ps, June 24, 2021.
 Qudsn.net, June 26, 2021.
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), June 26, 2021; wafa.ps, June 27, 2021; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 28, 2021.
 In a phone conversation with Banat's family, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya called him a "martyr for the homeland" who "died in defense of free speech." Hamas.ps, June 24, 2021.
 Hamas.ps, June 24, 2021; alresalah.ws, June 26, 2021. Fayez Abu Shamala, a columnist for Hamas' daily Filastin, posted a tweet comparing 'Abbas to leaders who were deposed and executed by their people, such as Mu'ammar Qadhafi and Nicolae Ceaușescu, and predicted that 'Abbas would suffer the same fate. Twitter.com/fayez201385, June 26, 2021.
 Paltoday.ps, pflp.ps, June 24, 26, 2021.
 Qudsn.net, June 27, 2021; Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 28, 2021.
 On the circumstances that led to the postponement of the elections, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1571 - Palestinians Concerned That Israeli Ban On Holding Palestinian Authority Elections In East Jerusalem Will Serve Fatah As Excuse To Cancel Elections - 04/13/21.
 This refers to a deal between Israel and the PA, in which Israel was to provide the PA with one million doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine set to expire by the end of July, and receive in return a shipment of fresh doses, intended for the PA, which is scheduled to arrive several months from now. The deal was canceled after news of it sparked rage among the Palestinian public.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), June 30, 2021.
 Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), June 27, 2021.
 Al-Ayyam |(PA), June 27, 2021.