Is an Arab Spring finally coming to the Palestinian Authority?
Chanting “the era of fear has gone away,” and “Oh Abbas, leave, leave!,” Palestinian protestors numbering in the “thousands” in Hebron and Ramallah protested earlier this month against the Palestinian Authority (PA) for the June 24 killing of political activist Nizar Banat during his attempted arrest by the PA.
According to the BBC, these protests appear “spontaneous” rather than “orchestrated by political parties.” However, both Hamas and Abbas’ rival, Mohammad Dahlan, had earlier called for Palestinians to protest the killing and the PA’s repression.
The PA responded to the recent protests with a massive crackdown. The PA has arrested over 70 Palestinian activists since Banat’s death. Fatah expelled Jihad Hamayel, its student leader at Bir Zeit University, following Hamayel’s criticism of Banat’s death and the PA’s crackdown. The PA arrested journalist Alaa al-Rimawi, accusing him of inciting violence against the PA in response to Banat’s killing, and for supporting Hamas. The PA also detained human rights activist Muhannad Karajah, arrested Dr. Ezaddin Za’oul in addition to a friend of Banat, and opened fire on the clinic of a dentist, all of whom who were either critical of Abbas or the PA’s killing of Banat, or both. Prior to Banat’s death, the PA orchestrated an “unprecedented clampdown” on its opposition, arresting 49 Palestinians and “briefly detain[ing] or summon[ing] for interrogation” 150 more suspected of being associated with Dahlan.
Banat was a critic of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ indefinite delay of presidential and parliamentary elections in late April, as well as of Abbas’ overall corruption. Abbas is now 85 years old, and the PA has not held elections in 15 years. About 60 percent of Palestinians have wanted Abbas to resign “in recent years,” according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research as reported by Ha’aretz.
An “Assassination” and a Flawed Investigation
Banat’s family claims that Banat’s death was a “premeditated assassination” by the PA. His family asserts that in the early morning of June 24, the PA broke into Banat’s home, and about twenty-five PA men (the PA later admitted that fourteen of its officers were involved) proceeded to attack him with clubs and/or iron bars for eight minutes.
Following Banat’s death, the US State Department remarked it was “deeply disturbed” by Banat’s death and the circumstances of his death, and called on the PA to “conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and to ensure full accountability in this case.” The US, EU and the UN have all called for an investigation into Banat’s death.
The PA conducted an investigation, but has yet to publish its findings. An inquiry into Banat’s death only contained people affiliated with the PA, after Banat’s family and an NGO withdrew from the group. The PA is whitewashing Banat’s demise, with the deputy head of Fatah calling Banat’s death “painful and unfortunate” and “an unintended accident,” while the PA governor of Hebron stated that Banat’s health had “deteriorated” during the raid on his house. An autopsy had found that Banat suffered “an unnatural death.”
Crackdown on Peaceful Protestors
The PA forcibly suppressed initial Palestinian protests to the killing of Banat. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused the Palestinian Security Forces using baton, teargas and stun grenades against “initially entirely peaceful protestors.” She also claimed “large numbers of non-uniformed people [were] acting in a seemingly organized and coordinated manner with the Palestinian Security Forces.” Bachelet also accused the Palestinian Security Forces of targeting female protestors, reporters and bystanders, and employing tactics including sexual harassment, phone confiscation, and interrogations.
Palestinian journalists claim that the PA attacked at least 30 of their colleagues. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) alleges at least five cases of the Palestinian Security Forces assaulting journalists, including via pepper spray, tear gas, and phone confiscation. According to the CPJ, the Palestinian Security Forces even physically battered journalists using their fists, and one journalist experienced lacerations of the face and head. In at least one case, a Palestinian Security Forces officer attacked a female journalist with a large stick.
In Ramallah, the PA deployed “dozens” of plain-clothes members of Fatah to suppress the protests. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate called for the PA to fire Ramallah’s chief of police after he failed to protect journalists from being assaulted by the PA’s security and plain-clothes supporters.
These protests and subsequent crackdowns may be a watershed moment in undermining the rule of Abbas and the PA, with rivals like Hamas or Dahlan standing to gain. To preserve its rule, the PA may choose pragmatism and improve the civil rights of its people. But more likely, the PA will respond with further repression. Only time will tell if this is the beginning of an Arab Spring for the PA.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic