Fourteen sacrificial lambs: thirteen troopers of the Palestinian internal intelligence and a junior officer – a sergeant -, sat silently in the dock at the military court in Ramallah on Monday, September 27. After two postponements, the men are on trial for the murder of Nizar Banat, a political opponent who died after his arrest in Hebron in June. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Banat’s family, no senior officials in the chain of command appear.
By judging these executioners, the Palestinian Authority intends to close the parenthesis of a dangerous summer: demonstrations against the assassination of this opponent had turned to the denunciation of the “regime”, which severely repressed them. With scathing humor, a European diplomat present at the hearing greets “An impressive demonstration of judicial independence”, on behalf of a proto-state which does not cease weakening its courts.
This procedure appears as a first step in a re-legitimization operation led by the Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas. The latter fell to its lowest after the postponement sine die, in April, legislative and presidential elections, the first scheduled for fifteen years. In May, he appeared to lose all grip on events after the latest war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. On September 21, a study by the Palestinian Center for Political Research and polls put a figure on this forfeiture: 78% of Palestinians want the resignation of Mr. Abbas.
Give the change
While the Palestinian Authority is increasingly seen as a mere performer of the security cooperation in place with Israel, the raïs would bow from afar, if an election were finally held, to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Mr Abbas, 85, can still claim, however. Give the change, at a time when the new Israeli government, encouraged by Washington, seeks to strengthen the Authority through economic measures, after years of intense pressure.
In the military court, the fourteen defendants are being prosecuted for abuse of authority, violence and for having violated military orders during Mr. Banat’s arrest. In April, he had gotten into trouble by denouncing the postponement of the legislative elections, for which he was a candidate on an independent list. This construction craftsman, a fiery critic of corruption within the Authority, had urged the European Union (EU) to stop funding power in Ramallah. Shortly thereafter, his family said, strangers fired live ammunition and threw stun grenades at his home in Dura, near Hebron, hitting a wall in his bedroom. Since then, Mr. Banat has been in hiding with relatives in the part of Hebron controlled by the Israeli army.
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