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Anti-Palestinian Authority protesters march in Ramallah over Nizar Banat death

The death of the outspoken activist on 24 June has sparked a movement calling for President Mahmoud Abbas to step down
Palestinian demonstrators at an anti-Palestinian Authority protest in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 3 July 2021. The banner reads: "Leave Abbas" (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Palestinians once again took to the streets in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday to denounce the death of activist Nizar Banat in Palestinian Authority (PA) custody last month and to call for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to step down after 16 years in power.

Hundreds marched in the streets as of 5pm local time (2pm GMT), chanting “Abbas in his last days” and holding banners reading “Leave Abbas”.

Banat - an outspoken critic of Abbas and the PA - was violently arrested by Palestinian forces in his home in the Hebron-area town of Dura in the early hours of 24 June. Hours after his detention, he was declared dead.

Banat was well known for his criticism of the PA leadership and had been arrested several times in the past by Palestinian security forces. He was also a candidate on the Freedom and Dignity electoral list for the PA parliamentary elections, which had initially been scheduled for 22 May, but were postponed by the PA.

His death has provoked an uproar among Palestinians in the occupied territory. It occurred amid an ongoing security crackdown by the PA on political opposition and social media users in the West Bank and sparked protests that have been violently targeted by security forces and supporters of the PA's ruling party, Fatah.

PA forces have been accused, among other things, of deliberately targeting women journalists covering the demonstrations, beating them, breaking their cameras, and threatening them with rape.

The PA was established in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords and initially intended to be an interim governing body until the establishment of a fully-fledged Palestinian state.

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But with a two-state solution never materialising, the PA - which exerts only limited control over around 40 percent of the West Bank, known as Areas A and B - has long been accused by many Palestinians of being an extension of the Israeli occupation.

The PA's security coordination with Israel is a principal target of anger. The policy, through which PA forces are in regular contact with Israeli forces, has meant PA police may withdraw from areas ahead of an Israeli army raid, or arrest Palestinians wanted by Israel.

Abbas, meanwhile, has been in power since 2005. Though his term as president officially ended in 2009, the PA has not held presidential elections in 16 years.

In addition to legislative elections, a presidential vote initially scheduled for 31 July was postponed in April, with the voting rights of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem cited as a reason.

Critics of Abbas have accused the president of using Jerusalem's right to vote as an excuse to avoid the election due to the popularity of Hamas, the main rival party to his own Fatah movement.