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The PA is an obstacle to freedom

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech as he attends the Advisory Board meeting of the Palestine National Liberation Movement (FATAH) in Ramallah, West Bank on 9 December 2018. [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech as he attends the Advisory Board meeting of the Palestine National Liberation Movement (FATAH) in Ramallah, West Bank on 9 December 2018. [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Last weekend, 24 Palestinian activists demanding accountability for the death of fellow campaigner Nizar Banat were arrested, detained and brutally beaten in custody by members of the Palestinian Authority security services. The activists had gathered for a peaceful demonstration in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah; the violent arrests occurred suddenly as they were about to launch a vigil in Manara Square. Two women were among those arrested.

The abuse was witnessed and condemned around the world, and the PA was the focus of a social media storm involving a number of progressive Democrats in the US. Known as "The Squad", they are famed for their highly critical stance on Israel, but nonetheless accused the PA of human rights abuses and authoritarianism. The PA attempted to justify the arrests by claiming that the demonstration was held without a permit.

"Shame on the Palestinian Authority," tweeted Congresswoman Cori Bush. "Suppressing dissent and criminalising protest only deepens the violence of Israel's apartheid system."

Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib addressed her anger to PA President Mahmoud Abbas directly. "Dear President Mahmoud Abbas… This is NOT how you protect and serve the Palestinian people. Shame on you for suppressing Palestinian voices who are trying to seek liberation from not only the Israeli apartheid government, but [also] from your corrupt leadership."

Ilhan Omar, meanwhile, also spoke out against the PA. She demanded the immediate release of those who had been arrested.

Moreover, several more protesters stood outside the judicial headquarters on Sunday, as a hearing for those detained a day earlier was ongoing. They carried posters declaring that, "Together we will continue… no oppression or arrest will terrorise us."

Following the social media outcry, the PA prosecution released most of the protesters the very next day, but eight of them were held in custody for another 48 hours. Those detained included prominent figures such as architect Khaldun Bishara, filmmaker Mohammad Al-Attar, human rights activist Fadi Quran, journalist Omar Nazzal, writer Zakaria Mohammed and two former political prisoners detained by Israel, Maher Al-Akhras and Khader Adnan.

Nizar Banat was a 43-year-old activist who was a stern critic of the PA and Abbas. His family has said that he was beaten as he was forced out of his home and has accused the PA of trying to cover up the details.

Since the protests over Banat's death began, the response of the PA security agencies has been extreme. Ironically, it has been very like that of the Israeli occupation forces.

Furious at the oppression suffered under PA detention, many of the detainees took to social media to share their experiences. "The detention conditions are humiliating and crowded," wrote Bishara on Facebook. "Even sheep couldn't stand it." He noted that several of the detainees went on hunger strike after a PA security officer insulted and physically assaulted Khader Adnan.

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Israel kidnaps and arrests hundreds of Palestinians every year, including children. Grim footage emerged earlier this year showing 55 shackled Palestinian inmates being restrained as Israeli officers kicked and beat them in a Negev prison.

Furthermore, a 12-year-old Palestinian child was kidnapped by an undercover Israeli soldier last month from the occupied Jerusalem town of Issawiya. In May, 13-year-old Mohammed Saadi was kidnapped, blindfolded and threatened with a gun to his head by five Israeli soldiers in his hometown of Umm Al-Fahm. That is in Israel, not the occupied West Bank. Not even Israeli citizens are safe if they are Palestinians.

Despite Mahmoud Abbas criticising Israel repeatedly for its violations of international and humanitarian laws, the Palestinians are currently facing similar violence and oppression at the hands of the PA.

"It is clear that we live under a corrupt system that is waging war against anyone who criticises it," said Ammar Banat, a cousin of Nizar, in the New York Times. "Suffice to say that we are not only living under an Israeli occupation, but a Palestinian one too."

Palestine has already endured decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. The resultant obstacles have been and remain substantial. The Palestinian Authority is now another obstacle to overcome in the struggle for freedom.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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