The Palestinian Authority (PA), facing growing criticism over the death of Palestinian anti-corruption political activist Nizar Banat, is trying to redirect the anger on the Palestinian street toward Israel.
Although Israel had nothing to do with the brutal killing of Banat, steering anger toward it is an old tactic used by Palestinian leaders for many years; whenever your people are angry with your corruption and repressive measures, you tell them that it is all Israel’s fault.
Banat was killed on June 24, shortly after more than 20 Palestinian security officers raided the home where he was staying in the West Bank city of Hebron. Banat’s family said that even before taking him into custody, the officers beat him with metal clubs and rifle butts.
Less than three hours after Banat, 42, was taken into custody, the PA announced that he had “died after his health deteriorated during the arrest.”
The death of Banat, an outspoken critic of the PA leadership, triggered an unprecedented wave of protests in the West Bank, including Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.
PA security officers and “enforcers” belonging to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction were dispatched to break up the protests and beat Palestinians, including female journalists.
Some of the journalists said that the officers and “enforcers” stole their mobile phones and laptops to prevent them from covering the protests. During them, Palestinians had demanded the resignation of Abbas and called for the punishment of those responsible for the killing of Banat.
These ongoing protests have seriously embarrassed the Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders, who are now searching for ways to deflect attention from their growing problems at home.
Although the PA government has reportedly formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the death of Banat, many Palestinians are saying that they do not trust the PA leadership. Banat’s family has called for a neutral international committee to investigate the circumstances that led to his death.
The PA has still not offered an account of how Banat died or the identity of those responsible, including the officers who beat him until he died.
Instead of providing answers to the family and the protesters, the PA and Fatah leaders are continuing their incitement against Israel in the hope that the frustration and outrage on the Palestinian street would shift to the usual target that for them is less problematic.
The Palestinian leaders are also trying to create the impression that the protests against Abbas and the PA are part of a foreign conspiracy concocted by unnamed foreign parties.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who, in his capacity as Minister of Interior is in charge of the Palestinian security forces, urged Palestinians “to display a spirit of high responsibility and not to distort matters in favor of political agendas and paid defamation campaigns.” Shtayyeh also called on the Palestinians “to keep our national effort focused on confronting the [Israeli] occupation.”
The PA premier, in short, is telling the Palestinians who are protesting the ruthless killing of a political activist at the hands of Palestinian security officers that they should direct their anger only at Israel, which had nothing to do with the incident.
Ironically, Shtayyeh revealed that his government was working to “embody the accession of the State of Palestine to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture,” a treaty that supplements to the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture.
The Palestinian government, which is responsible for the killing of Banat and assaults on journalists, political activists and social media users, is now supposedly trying to beautify its image by joining a UN treaty against torture. If the PA were really serious about human rights, it would stop arresting, torturing, harassing and intimidating its critics and political rivals. The PA talk about joining the anti-torture treaty is solely aimed at deceiving the international community into believing that Abbas and his government actually care about reforms and human rights.
Senior Fatah official Ahmed Bahar said that any Palestinian who protests against the Palestinian leadership, and not Israel, is a “traitor.” Speaking during a rally in support of Abbas and the PA leadership, Bahar said that the “true effort for the redemption of our people” should be directed against Israel. He added that any effort not directed against Israel is an act of “treason.”
Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy chairman of Fatah, warned that “internal conflicts” among the Palestinians would divert attention from the need to pursue the fight against Israel. The death of Banat, he said, was unfortunate and painful for everyone.
Aloul claimed that Israel was “working hard to divert the compass of the Palestinian resistance [against Israel] and turn it into conflicts within our Palestinian society. Our Palestinian people are facing great and difficult challenges and we will not allow anyone to divert the compass.”
What the statements of these Palestinian officials show is that the Palestinian leadership is trying to initiate violent protests against Israel to cover up for its responsibility for the death of Banat, now being described as the “Palestinian Khashoggi”—a reference to the Saudi journalist assassinated in Turkey in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government.
This is the same Palestinian leadership that has told the new U.S. administration that it is keen on resuming the peace process with Israel. While Abbas and senior Palestinian officials are talking about the resumption of the peace process with Israel, they are at the same time urging their people to forget about the killing of the anti-corruption activist and continual attacks on their own citizens, and instead engage in violent confrontations with Israelis.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.