The brother of murdered Palestinian activist Nizar Banat explained the family's approach to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December. "For those of us who live in corrupt countries where genuine justice is out of reach, the ICC remains our hope for an un-politicised investigation and prosecution of criminals," said Ghassan Banat.
Nizar Banat was one of the most vocal critics of the Palestinian Authority and a contender for the democratic elections which PA leader Mahmoud Abbas cancelled in early 2021. He was beaten to death by the PA security services in June the same year. The PA's military court released on bail the 14 security services members involved in Banat's killing, allegedly due to concerns about Covid-19 spreading in Palestinian jails. This prompted the Banat family to seek justice elsewhere.
Establishing criminal culpability, however, is only part of the struggle. No high level PA officials were indicted for the murder. Banat's elimination was politically motivated and the PA was directly involved in both the murder and the subsequent impunity for the security services members who beat him to death. For a comprehensive approach to establishing accountability, the entire structure of the PA needs to be taken into consideration. Indeed, reverting back to Banat's political activism is necessary, as it laid bare the entire structure of corruption and international funding of the PA's extension of colonial violence against the Palestinian people.
It is a pity that the PA official who spoke to the Jewish Chronicle in August 2022 remained anonymous. Yet the "justification" that he offered for Banat's killing reveals all that is wrong with the PA; he went as far as saying that he would have joined in had he been present at the scene of the murder. According to the interview, Banat was beaten to death for alleged rudeness and instability. However, the same anonymous PA official defended all forms of violence, including torture, which is used routinely against Palestinians in Palestinian Authority prisons.
"Our officials don't think the Banat case is something big, something we have to think about," he said. "What was the importance of Banat's life?" It is an absurd question to ask, because the activist was clearly so important that the PA felt the need to kill him rather than have him pose a politically formidable election threat to its internationally-funded, and ruthless, hierarchy. As one activist told the Guardian in 2021, "Right now people are far more afraid of criticising Fatah than Hamas." Such a statement is replete with awareness that, despite its political weakness, the PA retains enough support from Israel and its international donors to crush any political awakening among Palestinians, particularly voices which join the dots between the PA, corruption, colonialism and violence, rather than isolate and compartmentalise these abhorrent practices.
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While criminal culpability on its own can divert from political ramifications, it is difficult to separate them in Banat's case. The PA's violence is a political manifestation which oppresses, tortures, detains and, on occasions, kills Palestinians, either through the security services or through the "sacred" (Abbas's description) security collaboration with Israel, such as happened in the case of Basel Al-Araj in 2017.
Going to the ICC is a step in the right direction if the court can get past its own bureaucracy, but it is an incomplete move. A more pressing issue is to highlight Banat's activism to expose the PA's extension of Israel's settler-colonial violence. It should face criminal and political charges for killing Nizar Banat.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.