Hebron, occupied West Bank – The family of Nizar Banat, a fierce critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who was beaten to death by her security forces in May, has decided to seek international justice if necessary, despite intense pressure to leave the legal battle.
Nizar’s family appeared in Ramallah Military Court on Sunday and presented witness statements as part of the ongoing trial of 14 security officials involved in his death.
Relatives have criticized the trial as a propaganda stunt.
“These 14 people are being used as small fish in a large pond, and as sacrificial lambs,” said Ghasan, Nizar’s brother.
“They were obviously taking orders from far above but none of the high-ranking officials were questioned or investigated,” Ghassan told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera contacted PA’s press office and said no one could comment on the matter.
“We have hired British lawyers to work on the case and will consider going to the UN and other international actors if justice is not done in Ramallah,” Ghassan said.
“This is an international problem because the international community is funding PAKs and instead spending money on schools, hospitals, etc., the money is going to oppression.”
Family friend Hisham Sharabati, a human rights lawyer for the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq and a political activist for the Hebron Defense Committee, told Al Jazeera: “The family will also consider going to the International Criminal Court. [ICC]But only after taking other legal steps locally and internationally. “
Sharabati said the PA was in a difficult position and the matter was in danger of being tried before international jurisdiction, which meant that in the future, PA members could be tried abroad.
“They have tried to resolve the issue through tribal reconciliation and have offered huge sums of money, equivalent to compensation for the deaths of 14 people,” Sharabati told Al Jazeera.
“The family refused because it would lead to much milder consequences for the killers and deny the family the opportunity for justice through the courts,” he added.
“They are now putting tremendous pressure on the family by raiding the homes of family members and arresting relatives.”
Nizar Banat, from Dura, Hebron, was a vocal critic of PA, who regularly accused him of corruption and nepotism, and was criticized for stealing his ID.
In early May, Nizar was abducted from his home and beaten to death by masked men in early June 24, some of whom were armed, from the PA Security Service, who attacked his cousin’s home where he was taking refuge. Him while she was sleeping.
Nizar received multiple death threats before his assassination and was stationed in the H2 area of Hebron, directly under Israeli military control, thinking he would be safe.
His brother Ghassan says the PA coordinated with the Israeli army to go to Nizar.
“Dozens of heavily armed men from the PA intelligence headquarters in Hebron had to cross an Israeli military post about 500 meters from Ghassan’s home. How can they overtake Israeli soldiers without their knowledge? Ghasan asked.
“Obviously there was coordination with the Israelis because it was the H2 area of Hebron that is under Israeli control.”
He said he believed 14 people had been paid and would be sentenced to relatively short prison terms.
Family members have been arrested
One of the key witnesses in the attack, Nizar’s cousin Hossain, was arrested by PA security forces a few weeks ago.
“They came in the morning and arrested me. I was tied to a car and beaten before being interrogated at Hebron’s security headquarters, “Hussein told Al Jazeera.
“I was kept under pressure for more than nine days and my hands were tied to the roof, beaten and given electric shocks because they tried to force me to change my original testimony.”
Hussein said he was sleeping in the same room with his brother Muhammad and Nizar when he was abducted.
“They want to tell me that Nizar first attacked the PA security forces and then they reacted violently, but that is not true and I will not change my testimony. He was asleep when they started beating him, “said Hussein.
Sharabati said the operation was illegal.
“Although the behavior of PA security forces has improved somewhat since Nizar’s death, they have been conducting house-to-house raids without a search warrant and arresting family members without an arrest warrant or the approval of the prosecuting authority.”
‘I’m worried about my boys’
PA has accused family members of having a gun and shooting someone involved in Nizar’s death at the family home, the family has denied.
Hussein’s twin brother Arafat was also arrested along with other family members in recent weeks and taken for questioning.
Circumstances have forced some relatives to go into hiding and others to leave the West Bank, including Nizar’s mother, who now lives in Jordan.
Nissam Banat, the mother of Hussein and Arafat, said the constant raids were causing her to fall asleep at night.
“I’m worried about my sons being injured or killed, and when a lot of young men attack my house in the middle of the night, it hurts my daughters too,” Nisam told Al Jazeera.
“Every time someone we don’t know comes home, we think it’s someone associated with PA.”
To keep his memory alive
Ghassan says he is constantly being monitored by PA detectives and his phone has been hacked, forcing him to use various devices.
“I can’t use WhatsApp or other social media sites. My phone is constantly interfering and a lot of weird numbers from abroad are suddenly introduced on my phone, ”Ghassan said, adding that he is constantly on the move and sleeping in various cities and towns in the West Bank.
Despite the heavy pressure, the family said they were determined to continue their fight for justice for Nizar and preserve his memory.
Relatives held a memorial service in Ramallah last week to commemorate Nizar’s life. Representatives of various Palestinian political parties, as well as other Palestinian supporters and international dignitaries were present at the event.
Ghassan said they had issued a large number of credentials, including Nizar’s name and details, “to remember him after the PA confiscated his ID last year.”