Nizar Banat was having an effect, with his biting criticism of Abbas and his cronies on social media that attracted an ever-larger following among the Palestinian public. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
Nizar Banat was one of the fiercest critics of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President-For-Life who is now in the sixteenth year of his four-year term. Banat had for several years railed against the corruption and nepotism in the PA; he was keenly aware that Abbas had managed to amass a $400 million fortune from the aid money that foreign donors intended to be spent on ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Banat knew, too, that Abbas kept himself in power by rewarding his cronies with well-paid government jobs for themselves and their relatives. He knew that Abbas had built himself a $13 million palace in Ramallah, where he kept a $50 million plane, for his private use, out back.
Nizar Banat was having an effect, with his biting criticism of Abbas and his cronies on social media that attracted an ever-larger following among the Palestinian public. Banat became especially vitriolic after Abbas announced earlier this year that both Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections would be held later in the year. Banat promptly announced his own candidacy for Parliament, only to see his hopes dashed when Abbas, having come to the realization that whether his opponent was Mohammad Dahlan, or Marwan Barghouti, or Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas, he – Mahmoud Abbas – was certain to lose badly, announced that the elections would not be held after all. Abbas gave as his flimsy excuse the fact that Israel would not allow “Palestinians in east Jerusalem to vote.” This was false. The Israelis had no objection to Palestinians – i.e., non-citizens of Israel – living in east Jerusalem, from taking part in the PA elections, provided they voted physically just outside the city limits of Jerusalem. It didn’t matter; Abbas was not going to hold the elections under any circumstances; he’s 85 and intends to remain in office to provide more millions for his extended family. After all, by the time of his own death, his mentor Arafat had stolen about $2 billion in Palestinian aid money; two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk, have acquired at least $2.5 billion apiece in similar fashion; it would not be fair for Abbas to be forced into retirement until he can increase his own take by a few hundred million more.
Last year, Nizar Banat was kept for a few days in a Palestinian prison. This was a warning that he should stop his public criticism. He ignored the warning, and continued to post his anti-Abbas videos. Then an unidentified gunman shot into his house. Another warning, also ignored. Banat continued with his campaign against Abbas on social media. More threats arrived; Banat went into hiding. To no avail: 20 PA goons found him, arrived at his hiding place in the middle of the night, beat him repeatedly with metal rods, and dragged him away. He may by that time have already been dead, or he may have died soon after from the beating. In any case, Mahmoud Abbas had finally rid himself of his most prominent and articulate critic.
The funeral for Nizar Banat was held in Hebron, his home city. Thousands turned out, to mourn and to shout for the removal of Mahmoud Abbas. That story is here: “‘Get out Abbas’: Thousands protest at funeral of activist who died in PA custody,” by Aaron Boxerman, Times of Israel, June 25, 2021:
Thousands marched through the streets of Hebron on Friday [June 25] at the funeral of a Palestinian Authority critic who died in PA custody, with many calling for the end of President Mahmoud Abbas’s 16-year rule.
Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of the PA known for his biting videos on social media, died on Thursday after being arrested by officers in the Palestinian security services.
According to Banat’s family members, they witnessed him being viciously beaten for eight minutes straight before officers dragged him off.
“Get out, get out, Abbas. This is the vote of all the people,” protesters chanted. Green flags emblazoned with white Arabic calligraphy, often associated with the Hamas terror group, dotted the procession.
Public opinion polls taken months before had already shown how unpopular Abbas had become. The polls revealed that he would not get even 40% of the vote, no matter who ran against him. And since that poll was taken, he has sunk even lower in the public’s esteem. Hamas went up in popularity for “standing up” to the IDF in Gaza; Abbas neither said nor did anything during that 11-day conflict; this failure to in some way take part in the conflict, even if only to express solidarity with Hamas, did not go unnoticed.
Invoking one of the best-known slogans of the 2011 Arab revolutions, demonstrators called out: “The people want to topple the regime!”
“Out, out, out, get the dogs of the PA out,” others said.
In Hebron, in the middle of the PA-ruled part of the West Bank, emboldened by grief and fury, thousands of mourners protested against Banat’s killer, the deceptively avuncular, no-one-here-but-us-accountants Mahmoud Abbas who had sent his security service goons to rid him of Nizar Banat.
A crowd of Palestinians — appearing to number in the dozens — also gathered following Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to chant anti-Abbas and pro-Hamas slogans.The site is the third holiest in Islam and it lies on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.
“The Palestinian Authority are [Israeli] spies, from the lowest soldier to the president,” the crowd called.
Of course the PA must be “Israeli spies.” For Palestinians, one’s worst enemy must always be accused of being in the service of the Israelis. No evidence is needed for this; it’s a truth that is always and everywhere self-evident.
Another few dozen Palestinians gathered at al-Manara Square in downtown Ramallah to condemn the PA for Banat’s death.
Even in the middle of Ramallah, the center of Mahmoud Abbas’ fiefdom, with PA police and other security personnel much in evidence, hundreds of Palestinians dared to protest and hurl insults at Abbas. Fury had drained the fear from them. The PA police had to wield their batons and throw tear gas canisters, in order to hold them in check, lest the ranks of the protesters were to swell and break through the police lines, in order to march on Abbas’ official headquarters, the Muqata’a, or to surround his palatial home in order to yell curses at Abbas and his family inside..
Banat, 44, had a Facebook page in which he uploaded videos critical of the Palestinian Authority. He frequently assailed senior officials in Ramallah for alleged corruption and their commitment to security cooperation with Israel.
The corruption isn’t “alleged.” Abbas has his $400 million nest egg. Others, like Hanan Ashrawi and the late Saeb Erekat, have accumulated fortunes in the low millions. As for that security cooperation with Israel that the PA is obligated under the Oslo Accords to provide, without that contractual assurance Israel would not have pulled out of Area A entirely, nor – in domestic matters – from Area B. Besides, the PA needs Israeli help in keeping the terror group Hamas from challenging its power; the security cooperation benefits the PA at least as much as it does Israel.
…On Thursday morning, members of the PA security services raided the house where he was staying. According to his family, the officers stripped Banat, sprayed pepper gas in his eyes, before “viciously beating him” and dragging him away. Two hours later, his family learned that Banat was dead.
Whether Banat died then and there, at the house he had been hiding in, or an hour later, in a van or at the headquarters of the security services, hardly matters. What matters is that he was beaten to death with iron bars by men acting on the orders of Mahmoud Abbas. This is what all the Palestinians know. After this murder, Abbas’ support must now have decreased to – what? 20%? 10%? The loyalists whom he has rewarded with government jobs for both them and their extended families will stick by him; they have nowhere else to go. But why would anyone else want to continue to support Mahmoud Abbas, who has now provided the evidence that shows that he is not only a crook, but a murderer as well?
The PA has said it will conduct a full investigation with representatives from the family and human rights groups.
The PA “will conduct a full investigation” of the death of Nizam Banat? When pigs fly.
…While many Palestinian television channels and news sites live-streamed the funeral from the mosque in southern Hebron, the official PA-run Palestine TV instead showed clips from clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators near Beita in the northern West Bank.
As far as the PA-run channel went, there was no funeral; the only thing worth showing were the usual clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators in some tiny town in the West Bank. The funeral of Nizar Banat, ignored by the government-run Palestine TV, was livestreamed by almost every other channel. This has become another source of popular anger; Banat’s memory was being “disrespected” by the PA’s official media.
…“We have serious concerns about Palestinian Authority restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression by Palestinians and harassment of civil society activists and organizations,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
The European Union, the Palestinian Authority’s largest financial backer, said it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death. On Tuesday, the EU backed a $425 million aid package to the Palestinian private sector, at least $200 million of which would be channeled through PA institutions.
Might the EU have been sufficiently “shocked and saddened” to change its mind about channeling money through the PA? Why can’t funds be given to the “private sector” without any middleman, especially a middleman with such notoriously sticky fingers as Mahmoud Abbas?
“Our thoughts go to his family and loved ones. [A] full, independent, and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately,” the EU said in a statement.
The West Bank has seen an uptick in the arrests of activists opposed to the Palestinian Authority since the recent 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The fighting saw the widely disliked PA leadership in Ramallah lose still more support, as its Hamas rivals rose in popularity.
Two things have happened that have made the Palestinians even more infuriated than usual with Abbas and his cronies. First, there was his cancellation of the elections, depriving so many of hope who had allowed themselves to believe that they would be able to rid themselves of the corrupt regime through peaceful means. Second, there was the 11-day Gaza war, in which Hamas fought alone against the IDF, while the PA was missing in action.
The Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, condemned Banat’s death as an “assassination.”
“This premeditated crime reflects the intentions and behavior of the Abbas Authority and his security services toward our people, opposition activists and his political opponents,” said Hamas, which has been at odds with Abbas’s Fatah movement since a 2007 civil war between the two sides for control of Gaza.
Exiled Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan called for “a wide popular and legal response to hold the killers accountable.”
“There are no words to describe the killing of the prominent national activist, the martyr, Nizar Banat,” tweeted Dahlan, who leads a Fatah breakaway faction known as the Democratic Reform Current.
Is the murder of Nizar Banat the final outrage by Abbas? Will the protests dwindle, in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, or will the Palestinian street keep up its protests in its homegrown version of the Arab spring, and finally bring down the ruler against whom this week they have been shouting “Out, out, out, get the dogs of the PA out.”
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