JERUSALEM – A vocal critic of the Palestinian Authority who was a candidate in the canceled parliamentary elections earlier this year died after Palestinian security forces arrested and beat him with batons on Thursday, his family said.
Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and called on Western countries to cut aid to him because of its authoritarianism and human rights abuses. Earlier this week, another prominent activist was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and detained overnight after criticizing him on Facebook.
The crackdown on dissent comes as the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who view it as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a peace process of three decades which is far from achieving Palestinian independence. Hundreds of people took to the streets to protest after the spread of Banat’s death.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel. The 85-year-old leader has been powerless to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements, house demolitions, evictions in Jerusalem and deadly Israeli military raids, and has been largely ignored during the recent unrest in Jerusalem and the War of 11 days in Gaza.
Western countries nonetheless see the Palestinian Authority as a key partner in rebuilding Gaza, which is led by the militant group Hamas, and ultimately in relaunching the dying peace process.
Mohammed Banat, a cousin who witnessed the arrest, said a group of men, some wearing masks, broke into the house where Nizar was living and sprayed everyone with pepper spray.
“They beat Nizar with batons on his head and body,” he told The Associated Press. “They didn’t identify themselves and we didn’t recognize them. They arrested Nizar and disappeared.”
In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said Nizar’s “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early Thursday. He said he was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the formation of an investigative committee. He said a doctor chosen by the family would participate in the autopsy and the family would be invited to testify.
In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the West Bank town of Hebron, where his wife was inside with their children. He blamed the attack on Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the security forces.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
“Europeans should know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told The Associated Press in May during an interview in a house where he was hiding. “They shoot in the air during Fatah celebrations, they shoot in the air when Fatah leaders are fighting, and they shoot at people who oppose Fatah.”
A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who overturned the first election in 15 years in April as it looked like his fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas, which took Gaza from the forces of Israel. ‘Abbas in 2007.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Abbas during his visit to the region after the Gaza war last month, and the Biden administration is working to strengthen the Palestinian Authority after relations fall to an all-time high under President Donald Trump.