Palestinian human rights lawyer said arrested by Israel after anti-PA protest

Rights group says Farid al-Atrash arrested, but no comment from Shin Bet; Muhannad Karajah, lawyer for late Abbas critic Nizar Banat, briefly detained by PA

Palestinians hold posters depicting human rights activist Nizar Banat during a protest triggered by the violent arrest and death in custody of Banat, in his hometown of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (MOSAB SHAWER / AFP)
Palestinians hold posters depicting human rights activist Nizar Banat during a protest triggered by the violent arrest and death in custody of Banat, in his hometown of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (MOSAB SHAWER / AFP)

Palestinian human rights activist Farid al-Atrash was arrested by Israel Sunday while returning home from a protest calling for an end to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rule, his employer said.

Al-Atrash, a lawyer at the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a major Palestinian rights group, was returning to Bethlehem from a Ramallah protest when Israeli soldiers arrested him at the al-Container checkpoint near Abu Dis, the ICHR said in a statement.

According to the group, al-Atrash was then transferred to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem under unclear circumstances.

“[Farid’s] health deteriorated significantly during the process of his arrest, which necessitated his transfer to Hadassah Hospital for treatment,” the ICHR said.

Both the Shin Bet security service and Hadassah Hospital declined to comment on al-Atrash’s alleged arrest.

The ICHR has played a key role in documenting alleged PA police brutality during a recent wave of popular protests calling for the fall of the PA.

The demonstrations were sparked by the death of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of Ramallah’s leadership, while in PA custody in late June. According to his family, officers beat Banat with iron rods before dragging him off; they were informed of his death two hours later.

Banat’s death sparked rare, scattered protests calling for Abbas’s resignation. Several rallies have been held, mostly in Hebron and Ramallah, in which demonstrators called for “the fall of the regime” and told Abbas to “get out of our way.”

Other protesters demanded an end to Israel and the PA’s practice of security coordination. Under the current system, Israel and the PA work together to maintain stability in the West Bank, often by arresting those accused of plotting terror attacks against Israelis.

“Why this security coordination? We’re caught between the PA and the [Israeli] army,” protesters chanted in Ramallah on Saturday afternoon.

Palestinian human rights lawyer Muhannad Karajah was also arrested on Sunday morning as an ongoing Palestinian Authority crackdown on dissidents appeared to widen, the legal aid group Lawyers for Justice said.

Karajah directs Lawyers for Justice, which often defends activists imprisoned by the PA. One of his most prominent clients was Banat himself, whom Karajah defended last December when security forces briefly ignored a court order to release him.

Palestinians lift placards in Arabic which read “between the (Palestinian) Authority and the (Israeli) army” in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 3, 2021, as they protest against the Palestinian Authority over the death of activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of PA security forces. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

According to Lawyers for Justice, Karajah was arrested by PA security forces at a courthouse in Ramallah on Sunday morning. He had arrived to contest the detention of another member of the rights group, Ghassan Sa’adi, who had been arrested after a protest calling for the fall of the PA on Saturday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the PA security forces did not respond to repeated phone calls.

The PA has been engaged in an ongoing crackdown since May, detaining dozens of opponents across the West Bank.

The wave of detentions followed a sharp decline in the PA leadership’s popularity. In April, Abbas canceled the first planned Palestinian national vote in 16 years. Hamas, the main rival of Abbas’s Fatah faction, has seen surging support following its brief war with Israel in May.

PA forces violently dispersed Palestinian demonstrators in Ramallah on several occasions as they sought to march toward Abbas’s presidential offices. The crackdown prompted criticism from the international community, which called on the PA leadership to allow freedom of protest.

“Last weekend, we witnessed Palestinian Security Forces using force against initially entirely peaceful protesters, including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday.

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