The Washington Post

A growing distrust of leadership

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On the night that Nizar Banat was beaten to death, it was so still you could hear trucks passing in the distance on Route 60. “This is his bed,” says his brother Gassan Banat, standing before three pallets placed close together, just as they were at 3 a.m. on that June night when a crowbar smashed into the metal window shutters of the home in Hebron, in the southern West Bank, about a 45-minute drive from Jerusalem.

Nizar Banat, 42 — a well-known critic of the Palestinia­n Authority, which administer­s part of the West Bank — had been staying in this house for weeks, ever since his home had been attacked with bullets and stun grenades. He had blamed Palestinia­n security forces for that attack, likening them to “a gang led by gangsters.”

His death has been widely blamed on the Palestinia­n Authority, which was establishe­d after the Oslo accords with Israel more than 25 years ago, and further inflamed the anger many Palestinia­ns feel toward their leaders.

This brewing dismay has become so intense that it is now sapping the enthusiasm that Palestinia­ns have long felt for the prospect of their own state. In the West Bank, many people no longer believe their deeply flawed leaders can deliver independen­ce and fear that if they did, Palestine would resemble the corrupt and brutal autocracie­s so common in the Middle East.

While Nizar had been sheltering in the Hebron house, he was working on a new video. This one would have highlighte­d examples of corruption that are much discussed over hookah pipes in Palestinia­n cafes but not often aired on social media.

His earlier videos, addressing mismanagem­ent and factionali­sm in addition to corruption, had proved popular. Recent broadsides had slammed the Palestinia­n Authority’s failures at containing the coronaviru­s pandemic and President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision this spring to cancel the first scheduled elections in more than a decade. Nizar, who had planned to run, had called for the European Union to cut off aid to the authority.

“Nizar understood the public mood,” his brother Gassan says. “That is why they did what they did to him.”

Nizar’s younger cousins, Mohammed and Hussein Banat, had been lying next to him, chatting with him late into the night. They often stayed with Nizar to keep him company — and safe.

“We hadn’t been asleep long,” Mohammed recalls. Recounting that night, Mohammed points out the bent shutters and describes the crash that snapped him awake. A man with an iron crowbar climbed through the opening. Then a second assailant entered the room, holding a pistol that he pointed toward the cousins.

Hussein watched the man with the crowbar lean over Nizar’s bed and lift the blanket. “He checked his face to make sure it was him,” Hussein says. Then the man reared back and slammed the crowbar into the left side of Nizar’s forehead “with his full strength.”

Immediatel­y, more than a dozen more men came through the door and crowded around the beds, beating Nizar with bars, pistols and a bat, Hussein said.

“It would have been so easy to arrest him but that is not what they came for,” Mohammed says.

They stripped Nizar of his shirt and flipped him onto his stomach, cuffing his arms behind. Three more men entered, each wearing the vest of the Palestinia­n Preventive Security Force (PSF), an intelligen­ce unit.

The men pulled Nizar to his feet, propped his back against a concrete column and began slamming his head into it. “Ten or 12 times they did it,” Hussein recalls, his eyes distant.

A statement issued by the Palestinia­n Authority said Nizar’s health had “deteriorat­ed” during his arrest and that “it was found that he had passed away.” Fourteen PSF agents were later charged with abuse of power and violating military instructio­ns.

Outside the house, someone has stenciled Nizar’s face on a wall. A poster with his picture is on a nearby light pole, the same poster seen at the protests in Ramallah and Hebron that erupted after his death. They have repeatedly turned bloody with Palestinia­n forces cracking down violently.

“They have opened a huge gap between themselves and the people,” says Gassan, locking the door to the house.” Now the people see it as Nizar did — a gang led by gangsters.”

 ?? SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? LEFT: In the West Bank, Gassan Banat stands in the room where his brother, Nizar Banat, was beaten to death by Palestinia­n security officers. CENTER: Hussein Banat passes by the image of his slain cousin, a Palestinia­n political dissident, stenciled on a wall outside his home in Hebron. RIGHT: Security forces arrest a man at a protest of Nizar Banat’s killing in Ramallah.
SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST LEFT: In the West Bank, Gassan Banat stands in the room where his brother, Nizar Banat, was beaten to death by Palestinia­n security officers. CENTER: Hussein Banat passes by the image of his slain cousin, a Palestinia­n political dissident, stenciled on a wall outside his home in Hebron. RIGHT: Security forces arrest a man at a protest of Nizar Banat’s killing in Ramallah.
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