HEBRON, West Bank – Fourteen members of the Palestinian Authority’s security services were charged with beating to death an outspoken activist known for fierce online criticism, in a case that turned into a rallying cry against what critics describe as the growing authoritarianism of the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority.
Gene. Talal Dweikat, the spokesman for the security forces, announced charges on Sunday against members of Preventive Security, a force known for arresting opponents of the authority, including Hamas militants. The charges came after international pressure, including from the European Union, against senior Palestinian leaders.
But relatives of the victim, Nizar Banat, 42, expressed outrage that military prosecutors had failed to indict senior officials they believe were responsible for Mr Banat’s death, saying that they international community to be accountable.
The authority has tried to portray Mr Banat’s death in late June as an isolated incident carried out by a group of undisciplined security forces.
But critics have argued that his death exposed a more systemic problem in authority, which has zealously protected its senior officials and has become increasingly unwilling to tolerate dissent, particularly those directed against members of the ruling party. in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. fata.
Convictions on charges of manslaughter could carry sentences of at least seven years, said Gandhi al-Rabi, a lawyer representing Mr Banat’s family. However, some of the accused could face more severe consequences because prosecutors linked aggravating circumstances, Mr al-Rabi said. Other charges include “illegal confiscation” of property and “violating military orders,” according to a Palestinian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to communicate with the media.
Ghassan Banat, a brother of Nizar Banat, said the authority should not have charged only the troops who took part in Mr Banat’s arrest.
“They are turning this group of 14 into sacrificial lambs,” he said in an interview. “The authority protects the people who gave the orders. Does it make sense that these 14 soldiers would have come without instructions from above? There are those who ordered, those who planned and those who carried out. They all bear responsibility.”
In a telephone interview, General Dweikat said that the people accused of Mr Banat’s death were solely responsible.
More details about the death of Mr. Banat came out in an interview with his cousin Hussein Banat, 21, who was at the home where Mr. Banat was staying when it happened.
Nizar Banat, who had moved to a family property in an Israeli-controlled part of Hebron after being shot at his own home in May, was asleep at 3:10 a.m. on June 24, when Palestinian Authority security forces broke through. through a window behind him, Hussein Banat said.
He said plainclothes security forces surrounded his cousin, beating him with batons and metal bars while dousing his face with pepper spray.
“It was a horrible sight,” said Hussein Banat, who said he has since struggled to sleep at night and is afraid to go to public areas. “They beat him brutally without any mercy.”
After security forces handcuffed Nizar Banat and forced him to kneel, the cousin said, a handful of officers wearing vests bearing the Preventive Security logo entered the room and ordered their colleagues to continue beating him. “Go on,” he sternly quoted one of them, before the team led Nizar Banat away.
Hours later, Jibrin al-Bakri, the governor of Hebron, announced that Mr. Banat died after his health “deteriorated” during his arrest.
General Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence, told European and other diplomats in July that there was no order to kill Mr Banat, described his death as a very unfortunate “mistake” and stressed that American, British and other security forces were also occasional fatal errors, according to the European officials present.
Two doctors who participated in an autopsy on Mr. Banat described his death as “unnatural,” with bruises and abrasions on many parts of his body, including the head and neck, said Ammar Al-Dwaik, the director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a government-established body, in late June. Justice Minister Mohammad al-Shalaldeh later confirmed to government-run media that Mr Banat had died an “unnatural” death.
Nizar Banat was a house painter who gained a lot of followers online for his caustic and caustic comments, including criticism of the authority’s relations with Israel. From his home in Dura, a village south of Hebron in the West Bank, he made videotaped comments few would dare to make, but which often resonated with the wider public.
In late April, he criticized President Mahmoud Abbas for stating that he would only allow parliamentary and presidential elections to take place if Israel allowed it to vote in East Jerusalem.
“You want to punish Israel by depriving the Palestinian people of elections,” said Mr Banat, who announced his candidacy for parliament. “What stupidity is this?”
In addition to criticizing the authority, Mr. Banat targeted Israel; with Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled rival of Mr Abbas; and in the LGBTQ community.
The trial against the security forces will begin in the coming days.
With no hope of justice in the Palestinian justice system, the Banat family said they have turned to international authorities for help.
Protesters took to the streets after Mr. Banat, where security forces sometimes took violent measures to stop them. Recently, protests over Mr Banat’s death have weakened, but an attempt to renew them in Ramallah in late August was thwarted by security forces who arrested more than two dozen people.
Protesters have not only spoken out against Mr Banat’s death, but expressed frustration at the erosion of the independence of the justice system, rampant nepotism, mismanagement of public funds and arrests targeting people for Facebook posts, among other things.
Ghassan Banat said his brother’s death made it clear to him that he, his wife and five children have no future in the West Bank.
“It’s impossible to continue living here,” he said. “I have had enough of the repression of the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” he said. “As soon as we have completed all our work for Nizar, we will leave.”