A new wave of protesters took to the streets of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah to inject momentum into the protests against the Palestinian Authority (PA) that have been flourishing in various regions of the OPT after the custody death of an outspoken critic of the PA.
The protests began after the death of Nizar Banat, 43, who was a strong critique of the Palestinian Authority and had called them out to be “contractors of Israel” and corrupt. The Palestinian Authority was established as part of the peace process in the 1990s and governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is one of the last manifestations of the peace process, which has been dormant for more than a decade, and is seen by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a key partner in promoting stability. While the current protests were sparked by the death of Banat, the grievances of the public against the PA and President Mahmoud Abbas run much deeper. Abbas’ popularity plunged after he called off the first elections in 15 years in April and was then sidelined by the Gaza war in May.
The protests echoed with slogans of “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Abbas, leave,” slogans used during the so-called Arab Spring protests that swept the Middle East in 2011. Crowds waved the Plestinian flag and pictures of Nizar Banat and the family of Bazar were at the forefront of the protest, with his mother giving a speech at the rally as well. These crowds were met with brutal force from both Palestinian security forces and men in plain clothes loyal to Abbas’s Fatah party. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Thursday that Palestinian security forces had beaten protesters with batons and attacked them with tear gas and stun grenades. She said they appeared to have singled out female demonstrators, reporters and bystanders, many of whom said they were sexually harassed.
There has been a global outrage regarding the death of Banat. UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said the “perpetrators must be brought to justice”, while the EU called for a “full, independent and transparent investigation”. The United States said it was “deeply disturbed” by the death, and urged a transparent investigation.