Hebron, Occupied West Bank – The family of Nizar Banat, a fierce critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who was allegedly beaten to death by its security forces in May, has resolved to seek international justice if necessary despite coming under heavy pressure to drop the legal fight.
Nizar’s family appeared before the Ramallah military court on Sunday and presented witness statements as part of the ongoing trial for 14 security officers implicated in his death.
Relatives have criticised the trials as being a publicity stunt.
“Those 14 men are small fish in a big pond, and are being used as sacrificial lambs,” said Nizar’s brother, Ghassan.
“They were obviously taking orders from much higher above but none of the higher-ranking officials has been questioned or investigated,” Ghassan told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera contacted the PA’s press office and was told no one could comment on the issue.
“We have hired British lawyers to work on the case and will consider approaching the United Nations and various other international actors if we don’t get justice in Ramallah,” Ghassan said.
“This is an international issue because the international community is funding the PA and instead of them spending the money on schools, hospitals etc, the money is going towards repression.”
Family friend Hisham Sharabati, a human rights advocate with Palestinian rights group Al-Haq and political activist with the Hebron Defence Committee, told Al Jazeera the “family will also consider approaching the International Criminal Court [ICC], but only after other legal steps locally and internationally have been taken”.
Sharabati said the PA was in a difficult position and feared the matter being tried before international jurisdiction, which would mean, in the future, members of the PA could be tried abroad.
“They have tried to resolve the matter through tribal reconciliation and offered an enormous amount of money, equivalent to reparations for the death of 14 people,” Sharabati told Al Jazeera.
“The family refused as this would lead to much milder consequences for the killers and negate the family’s chance for justice through the courts,” he added.
“They are now putting enormous pressure on the family by raiding family members’ homes and arresting relatives.”
Nizar Banat, from the town of Dura in Hebron, was a vocal critic of the PA, regularly accusing it of corruption and nepotism, and had been subjected to censure including his ID being taken away.
In early May, Nizar was abducted from his home and allegedly beaten to death in the early hours of June 24 by masked men, some of them armed, from the PA security services, who raided his cousin’s home where he was taking refuge, and attacked him while he was sleeping.
Nizar received multiple death threats before his killing and was staying in area H2 of Hebron, under direct Israeli military control, thinking he would be safe.
His brother Ghassan said the PA had coordinated with the Israeli military to get to Nizar.
“Dozens of heavily armed men had to pass an Israeli military post, situated approximately 500 metres away from Ghassan’s home, on their route from PA intelligence headquarters in Hebron. How could they have passed the Israeli soldiers without their knowledge?” asked Ghassan.
“There was obviously coordination with the Israelis as this was in Area H2 of Hebron which is under Israeli control.”
He said he believed the 14 men had been paid off, and would receive relatively minor jail sentences.
Family members arrested
Nizar’s cousin Hussein, one of the main witnesses of the attack, was arrested several weeks ago by PA security forces.
“They came in the early hours of the morning and arrested me. I was shackled and beaten in the car before being interrogated at Hebron’s security headquarters,” Hussein told Al Jazeera.
“Over nine days I was held in stress positions with my hands shackled to the roof, beaten and given electric shocks as they tried to force me to change my original testimony.”
Hussein said he was sleeping together with his brother, Muhammad, in the same room as Nizar when he was abducted.
“They want me to say that Nizar attacked the PA security forces first and then they responded with violence, but this is not true and I won’t change my testimony. He was sleeping when they started beating him,” said Hussein.
Sharabati said the raids were illegal.
“Although the behaviour of the PA security forces has become a little better since Nizar’s death, they are raiding homes without search warrants and arresting family members without arrest warrants or approval from the prosecuting authorities.”
‘I worry about my sons’
The PA has accused family members of having guns and shooting one of the men allegedly involved in Nizar’s death at the family home, a charge the family denies.
Hussein’s twin brother, Arafat, was also arrested and taken in for questioning in recent weeks, along with other family members.
The stress of the situation has forced some relatives to go into hiding and others to leave the West Bank, including Nizar’s mother who is now living in Jordan.
Nisam Banat, the mother of Hussein and Arafat, said the continuous raids were causing her sleepless nights.
“I worry about my sons being hurt or killed, and when lots of young men raid my house in the middle of the night it disturbs my daughters, too,” Nisam told Al Jazeera.
“Every time a person we don’t know comes to the house we think it’s somebody connected to the PA.”
Keeping his memory alive
Ghassan said he was being constantly monitored by PA intelligence and his phone had been hacked, forcing him to use several different devices.
“I’m unable to use WhatsApp or other social media sites. There is constant interference on my phones and a whole lot of strange numbers from overseas have suddenly become contacts on my phones,” said Ghassan, adding he is continually on the move and sleeping in different West Bank towns and cities.
Despite the heavy pressure, the family said they are determined to continue their fight for justice for Nizar and to keep his memory alive.
Relatives held a memorial service last week in Ramallah to commemorate Nizar’s life. Representatives of various Palestinian political parties, as well as other Palestinian supporters and a number of international dignitaries, attended the event.
Ghassan said they issued a large number of identification cards with Nizar’s name and details on them, “to remember him after the PA confiscated his ID last year”.