No one has demanded explanations from the PA as to why it released officers accused of abduction and murder.
By Bassam Tawil, Gatestone Institute
Case 1: Nizar Banat was a prominent Palestinian human rights activist from the Hebron area in Judea and Samaria. In June 2021, Banat was beaten to death by Palestinian security officers who came to arrest him because of his frequent criticism of corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Case 2: Shireen Abu Akleh was a Christian Palestinian-American reporter working for the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera TV network. In May 2022, Abu Akleh was killed while she was covering armed clashes between the Israeli army and gunmen from the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization in the city of Jenin.
Although more than a year has passed since the brutal murder of Banat, important mainstream media outlets in the West have not conducted any investigation into his case.
Even the protests that erupted in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, against the murder of the human rights defender and anti-occupation activist drew little attention from the international community and media. This, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority police used excessive force to disperse the protesters, many of whom were beaten and detained for days.
In the case of Abu Akleh, by contrast, major media organizations and newspapers, including The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Associated Press conducted their own “investigations” into her tragic death, only to reach the unsubstantiated conclusion that she was likely killed by Israeli gunfire.
Since her killing, the topic of Abu Akleh has received wide and almost unprecedented coverage in the media. Is it because she is an American citizen? Not likely: she certainly was not the first U.S. journalist killed in a conflict this year.
Does anyone remember Brent Renaud, an award-winning American journalist who was killed by Russian forces in Irpin, Ukraine, in March 2022?
Why didn’t CNN, The New York Times and other media organizations dispatch a team of experts and investigative journalists to Ukraine to probe the cause of his death? For the same reason they did not investigate the murder of Banat: There was no way to blame Israel.
Banat was murdered by Palestinian Authority security officers. Renaud was killed by Russian troops. Abu Akleh, on the other hand, was fatally shot during an Israeli army military operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists, which means that there is an opportunity for all the Israel-haters to point an accusing finger at Israel.
That is exactly what the anti-Israel folks have been doing since the death of the Al-Jazeera journalist: bending over backwards to implicate Israel, despite the high probability that the woman may have been hit by a bullet fired by a Palestinian terrorist.
U.S. Administration Double Standards
Most of the foreign journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are fully aware that Banat, the human rights activist, was murdered by Palestinian police officers, apparently on the instructions of senior officials in the Palestinian Authority.
How many of these journalists have written articles or stories denouncing the murder and calling for holding the Palestinian Authority fully and directly responsible for the murder of Banat? Precious few.
Why? Because his story lacks an anti-Israel angle. There is no way to blame Israel for Banat’s ruthless abduction and bludgeoning-to-death.
The U.S. administration has also been engaged in double standards in its dealing with the cases of Banat and Abu Akleh.
First, the issue of Banat was not on the agenda of the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Bethlehem on July 15.
Second, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken invited Abu Akleh’s family to meet him in Washington.
The family of Banat, on the other hand, has never been invited to Washington for such meetings.
‘I cannot talk more because I do not feel safe’
While the Biden administration and other international parties have been pressuring Israel to launch a full and thorough investigation into the death of Abu Akleh, the Palestinian Authority has evidently been let off the hook regarding the Banat murder.
No one has demanded explanations from the Palestinian Authority as to why it released the 14 officers accused in a Palestinian “military court” of taking part in the abduction and murder of Banat.
The PA claims that the defendants were released on bail because of the spread of the coronavirus in prisons. If that were true, why did the Palestinian Authority not release all the prisoners who are being held in its prisons?
The director of the office of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in southern Judea, Farid al-Atrash, posted on his Facebook page that the release of those accused of killing Nizar Banat without legal justification, before the first anniversary of his killing, means that justice may have died. Al-Atrash continued:
“Unfortunately, I cannot talk more because I do not feel safe and there is no protection for human rights defenders. Nizar Banat used to say that he too did not feel safe and was being chased. His wife and children were shot at, and no one was ever arrested. We were not able to protect him.”
In a separate statement, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (PICHR) revealed that the decision to release the accused officers was issued by the Palestinian Authority Military Prosecutor. According to the decision, the release came due to the health conditions arising from the spread of the coronavirus.
“We call on the Palestinian judicial authority to expedite the procedures for trial of the accused to ensure justice for Nizar Banat and his family and friends,” read a statement by PICHR. “Although a year has passed since the killing of the activist Banat, the [Palestinian] military court has so far not issued a ruling in the case, which requires, above all, a serious pursuit of prompt justice.”
When Journalists Choose to Look the Other Way
Notably, unlike the case of Abu Akleh, the Biden administration did not comment on the release of the Palestinian officers accused of murdering the Palestinian human rights activist.
Similarly, the international media, whose representatives in the Middle East often appoint themselves as guardians of human rights and free speech, and consider that their role as enlightened and progressive journalists is to side with the underdog (in this case the Palestinians) have had nothing to say about the Palestinian Authority’s failure to hold a proper trial for the accused officers.
The journalists, in addition, have never bothered to report on the outcry among Palestinians in response to the release of the officers. These journalists, it should be noted, are the same ones who have written dozens of articles on Abu Akleh, the Al-Jazeera reporter, in the past few weeks.
When a group of Palestinians held a protest in Ramallah to demand justice for Banat, the same journalists who have become obsessed with the Al-Jazeera reporter’s story chose to look the other way.
The participants in the protest raised slogans calling for justice for Nizar and for ending the Palestinian Authority’s “security repression.” The protest was not covered by the international media because it was directed against Mahmoud Abbas and his officials, and not against Israel.
Ghassan Banat, the brother of the slain human rights activist, said that it was Abbas who gave the order to release the officers.
‘The Judicial Process Resembles a Farce’
Amnesty International wrote in a recent statement:
“Justice remains elusive one year on from the death of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian activist who died shortly after he was arrested and brutally assaulted by Palestinian security forces in June 2021.”
The organization called on Palestinian authorities to ensure that those responsible for Banat’s death are held to account by the civilian justice system as proceedings in military courts are fundamentally compromised.
“The flawed military trial of 14 low-ranking security officers will not bring about justice,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“There needs to be a civilian trial following international standards, not just a smokescreen to protect those higher up. It is essential that the individuals who gave orders to arrest Nizar Banat for no lawful reason, and who oversaw the assault, are also held to account,” he stated.
“The Palestinian Authority must immediately transfer this case to the civilian justice system, to ensure that proceedings are independent of those involved in the crime. The judicial process resembles a farce,” Morayef added.
The failure to hold the Palestinian Authority to account over the murder of Nizar Banat while incessantly bashing Israel over the death of Shireen Abu Akleh is yet another example of the double standards and deep racism of the Biden administration and the rest of the international community and the media, who continue to single out Israel as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel and demonize Jews.
This double standard approach does not come as surprise to those who are familiar with the way the international community and media outlets have long been dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — one in which Israel is held entirely and endlessly responsible for any wrongdoing while the Palestinians are never considered agents of their own fate.
A small yet significant footnote: Few Palestinians knew that Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen because she hardly mentioned this fact on her resume or in her broadcasts. It is not hard to speculate why. Abu Akleh’s people, the Palestinians, loathe the United States — and she herself may not have been particularly keen on the country, either.