Basil al-Araj: Police break up protest over court case

Palestinian Authority police attack demonstrators at protest against controversial security coordination with Israel.

Basel al-Araj protest in Ramallah, Palestine
At least 200 demonstrators gathered to protest the case outside a Ramallah court [Zann Huizhen Huang/Al Jazeera]

Ramallah, West Bank – Palestinian police violently suppressed a demonstration over a court case against slain activist Basil al-Araj and five others imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority (PA) last year. 

A prominent activist and youth movement leader, Araj, 31, was killed in an Israeli raid in Ramallah last week.

About 200 people took part in what was a peaceful gathering on Sunday until Palestinian security forces and riot police intervened to break it up, violently arresting its leaders, firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, and swinging batons to disperse the group.

At least 11 people were injured, including Araj’s father, and were transferred to the nearby Ramallah hospital.

Security forces prevented many Palestinian journalists from covering the event, assaulting some and breaking their equipment. Protesters chanted slogans against the judges responsible for ruling on the case and held pictures of Araj.

Altercations began when police arrived at the scene and formed a wall in front of the district court, shoving protesters back.

A number of demonstrators were arrested, including Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan.

“We’re here against all political arrests, against all political courts,” Lema Nazeeh, a lawyer and activist, told Al Jazeera.

“The PA should take responsibility for protecting people, not taking them to court and making them into easy targets for the Israeli army,” she added.

The case of Araj's killing sparked widespread criticism of the PA's security coordination with Israel [Zann Huizhen Huang/Al Jazeera]
The case of Araj’s killing sparked widespread criticism of the PA’s security coordination with Israel [Zann Huizhen Huang/Al Jazeera]

The official news agency Wafa quoted police spokesman Louay Azriqat as saying security forces “treated the [protesters] with force, in accordance with the law, in order to open up the street and get things back to normal”.A request for comment from the Palestinian Authority went unanswered.

Palestinian security forces arrested Araj in April 2016 along with Muhammad al-Salamin, Haitham Siyaj, Muhammad Harb, Seif al-Idrissi, and Ali Dar al-Sheikh on allegations they held unlicensed weapons and were planning to carry out an attack on Israeli targets.

In late August, the six men staged a hunger strike to protest torture and mistreatment while in detention. The group was released without charge after nine days on hunger strike, but four were immediately re-arrested by Israeli forces and are currently in Israeli custody. 

The case sparked widespread criticism of the Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with Israel

READ MORE: Palestinians protest against Basil al-Araj’s killing

Araj had been in hiding since his release.

His death – in a violent raid during which Israel said its forces engaged in a two-hour shoot-out with the fugitive – has been seen by some as a turning point.

But on Sunday court authorities announced they would go forward with the case against the activists, despite Araj’s death and the fact four of the men are in Israeli detention.

“We are protesting against the Palestinian Authority who imprisoned Basil in the past and today wants to judge him,” Omar Assaf, a member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, told Al Jazeera at the demonstration.

“[The protesters] are friends and people who love Basil and his way. They call on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to stop security coordination with Israel.”

Araj was revered by many as a beacon of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Thaer Anis – an activist with the Jerusalem branch of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee who worked with Araj during his years of activism – told Al Jazeera his death was a stark reminder of the situation on the ground.

“In Basil’s idea, there is a new message. ‘We have two things we must struggle against: the politics in Palestine and the occupation,'” Anis said. “We will follow it.”

Araj was revered by many as a beacon of resistance [Zann Huizhen Huang/Al Jazeera]
Araj was revered by many as a beacon of resistance [Zann Huizhen Huang/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera