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Progressive Democrats tear into Palestinians over crackdown on critics

Tlaib, Omar, Bush, Pocan and Murphy blast Ramallah’s ‘shameful’ arrests; Sanders’s office said to have reached out to PA shortly before it agreed to release activists

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Palestinian security forces block a road during a demonstration in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on June 26, 2021, protesting the death of human rights activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Palestinian security forces block a road during a demonstration in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on June 26, 2021, protesting the death of human rights activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Members of the “Squad” of progressive Democrats in the United States, more commonly known for their criticism of Israel, have shifted their censure to the Palestinian Authority amid Ramallah’s latest crackdown on rights activists and critics.

Over the weekend, the PA arrested roughly 30 demonstrators who had gathered to hold protests memorializing well-known PA critic Nizar Banat, who died in the custody of Ramallah’s security forces.

In the days since the arrests, a handful of progressive Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate sounded their displeasure, lamenting what they said was the squeezing of Palestinians in the West Bank by Israel’s military rule on one end and the PA’s increasingly authoritarian practices on the other.

“Locking up peaceful protesters is a textbook human rights abuse and the hallmark of authoritarian regimes,” tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar on Monday, calling on the PA to immediately release those it had arrested.

Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib directed her disapproval at the PA’s leader. “Dear President Mahmoud Abbas,” she tweeted. “This is NOT how you protect and serve the Palestinian people. Shame on you for suppressing Palestinian voices who are trying to seek liberation from not only the Israeli apartheid government, but from your corrupt leadership.”

“Shame on the Palestinian Authority,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush. “Suppressing dissent and criminalizing protest only deepens the violence of Israel’s apartheid system. We stand with Palestinians against the violence of the Palestinian Authority’s authoritarianism. Freedom for political prisoners now.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., right, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., at a news conference, on August 19, 2019, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, after their planned trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank was blocked by Israel. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Rep. Mark Pocan wrote that the PA “must stop committing human rights abuses and respect the freedom of speech of all Palestinians. Arresting peaceful human rights defenders is never OK. Full stop.”

In the Senate, Chris Murphy issued a statement calling for those involved in Banat’s death to be held accountable, adding that the recent arrests “seriously call the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to accountability into question.”

“The Palestinian Authority must do more to tackle corruption and end the campaign of harassment against civil society,” Murphy added.

Haaretz reported that Sen. Bernie Sanders’s office reached out to Ramallah demanding that it explain the weekend arrests, and that the PA released several of the more prominent activists shortly thereafter on Tuesday.

Asked for comment on the matter, a US State Department spokesperson said that the Biden administration was “deeply disturbed” by the PA’s weekend arrests and urged Ramallah to “conduct themselves in a professional manner, and authorities to strictly respect freedom of expression, the vital work of journalists, as well as the full rights of Palestinians to protest peacefully.”

“The United States is extremely concerned by increasing reports of Palestinian Authority restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association in the West Bank. The Palestinian people deserve more freedom of expression – not less,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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