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PA says 14 officers to be charged for beating Abbas critic Nizar Banat to death

Men to be accused of aggravated assault in case that has rocked the West Bank; no senior officers or politicians have so far been charged in Banat’s death

Maryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat, holds a poster with his picture at a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Maryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat, holds a poster with his picture at a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Fourteen members of the Palestinian Authority security forces will be charged for allegedly beating opposition figure Nizar Banat to death in late June, a spokesperson for the forces said on Sunday.

“The investigations have concluded, and the military prosecutors… decided to charge all the officers and forces who participated in apprehending Nizar Banat,” PA security services spokesperson Talal Dweikat told official PA television.

The 14 alleged perpetrators will be charged with fatally beating Banat, under PA military law, said Dweikat.

Banat, a social media activist well-known for his caustic videos condemning the PA leadership, died after being arrested by PA officers in late June. His death sparked rare major protests in the West Bank calling for the downfall of the PA government.

In the aftermath of Banat’s death, the PA arrested 14 officers alleged to have taken part in his beating. All hailed from the Hebron division of the powerful Preventative Security apparatus, Dweikat said on Monday.

But Banat’s family has already pledged not to accept the results of the PA’s investigation into his death. The family formally withdrew its support from an earlier commission of inquiry that led to the arrests of the 14 suspects in July.

Nizar Banat, an outspoken of the Palestinian Authority, speaks to journalists at the family house, in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 4, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

No senior officers or politicians have been charged in Banat’s death. Some Palestinian media has fingered Hebron deputy Preventative Security chief Maher Abu Halawa as ultimately responsible for ordering Banat’s death.

“The investigations proved that [Abu Halawa] had nothing to do with this incident,” Dweikat argued.

Originally from Dura, near Hebron, Banat had developed a loyal following on his Facebook page over the years. He uploaded simple videos, often just himself sitting in front of a white wall, railing against the Palestinian Authority’s alleged corruption, as well as against Israeli policies.

But his concerns resonated with ordinary Palestinians, many of whom see the PA as increasingly authoritarian, corrupt, and ineffectual at realizing their dream of an independent state.

In late April, PA President Mahmoud Abbas canceled planned elections just a month before they were scheduled to be held, saying that Israel was refusing to allow the vote to take place in East Jerusalem. Critics, including Banat, accused Abbas of using that as an excuse while actually fearing a loss to his rivals both in Fatah and in the Hamas terror group.

After the cancellation, Banat called for the immediate cessation of aid by the European Union to Abbas. A few days later, unknown assailants show up at his Dura home, leading him to flee to a hideout in an Israeli-controlled area of Hebron.

But in late June, a band of PA security officers burst into that house and detained him. A few hours later, Banat’s family was informed he had died. Two of his family members, who were present during his arrest, alleged that the PA officers brutally beat him to death.

Banat’s death sparked widespread outrage. Thousands took to the streets in Hebron and Ramallah in rare protests calling for the downfall of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. In Ramallah, PA forces cracked down hard on the rallies, beating and arresting some of those who demonstrated against the government.

The demonstrations have largely sputtered out over the past few months — although a few weeks ago there were some renewed rallies in Ramallah. The PA has responded by detaining and charging protesters, sparking international condemnation.

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