Is the PA trying to ‘bury’ the case of slain activist Nizar Banat?

A court in Ramallah has again postponed the trial of 14 Palestinian Authority security officers accused of involvement in the murder Nizar Banat.

 Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

A court in Ramallah has again postponed the trial of 14 Palestinian Authority security officers accused of involvement in the murder of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat.

Banat, a resident of the Hebron area, was beaten to death by the officers, who stormed his house to arrest him on June 24, 2021. He was famous for his anti-PA videos that he posted on Facebook and in which he accused the Palestinian leadership of corruption and human-rights violations.

The trial of the officers, who were arrested by the PA following a public outcry, has been repeatedly delayed on various pretexts, including the failure of senior security officials and experts to appear for testimony.

The recurring postponements have raised fear among Banat’s family and human-rights activists that the PA is trying to bury the case and avoid a court ruling against the defendants.

A lawyer representing the Banat family on Tuesday said he did not believe the PA was serious about punishing the culprits.

 Palestinian security officers stand guard during a trial of security officers (not seen) over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 14, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/ALI SAWAFTA) Palestinian security officers stand guard during a trial of security officers (not seen) over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 14, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/ALI SAWAFTA)

“The defendants are security officers,” he said. “They acted on orders from senior Palestinian officials. That’s why the Palestinian leadership is trying to disrupt the court proceedings. It does not want the truth to come out.”

According to a political activist from Hebron, “The only way to achieve justice for Nizar Banat” was by having an international commission of inquiry investigate the murder.

The murder of Banat triggered protests by several human-rights and political activists, many of whom were arrested on charges of insulting the PA leadership, fomenting sectarian strife and holding illegal gatherings.

The case resurfaced recently after Qatar-owned Al Jazeera TV broadcast a documentary on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and death of Banat. Members of the slain activist’s family and human-rights advocates held the PA directly responsible for the “premeditated assassination.” They also expressed fear that the defendants would escape punishment.

On Monday, the Independent Commission for Human Rights and the Palestinian human-rights organization Al-Haq issued a joint fact-finding report regarding the case of Banat. Al-Haq and five other Palestinian civil society groups have been designated by Israel as terrorist organizations.

The organizations found that the officers used “enormous and excessive force” against Banat during the raid on his house.

An autopsy performed by Palestinian medical examiners attributed the cause of the death to severe blows to many areas of the body, specifically the chest.

Banat was subjected to a major campaign of incitement shortly before his death, the report said. The incitement came mostly from the ruling Fatah faction, headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and some PA officials.

Additionally, unidentified gunmen carried out a shooting attack on Banat’s home weeks before the incident in which he was murdered. He also received death threats from various unknown parties and individuals. The threats intensified after Banat announced plans to run in the parliamentary election as part of a list called Freedom and Dignity.

The elections were supposed to take place last May, but they were called off by Abbas on the pretext that Israel did not allow the vote to take place in Jerusalem.

Weeks before his death, Banat was summoned for interrogation by the Palestinian security forces on charges of “slandering” the PA. According to the report, the PA considered Banat as one of the most dangerous fugitives, although he did not pose a threat to public order and did not carry weapons.

The officers used iron bars and other tools when they attacked Banat while he was asleep.

“The use of excessive force and the way Banat’s house was raided demonstrate the extent to which the members of the [security] forces were clearly affected by the incitement that preceded the arrest,” the report said.

In their report, the two organizations called on the PA to “fully acknowledge” its responsibility for the murder and issue an official apology to the family and friends of Banat.

The report demanded that the PA guarantee that such incidents do not recur in the future. It also demanded that the PA respect freedom of expression and the right to hold peaceful assemblies.