Palestinian brutality funded by Britain

Special report: PA thugs that killed human rights campaigner part of forces paid for by UK taxpayer


Palestinian thugs who beat a leading critic of Mahmoud Abbas’s regime to death were members of a security force trained by the British Army at taxpayer’s expense, a JC investigation has revealed.

Fourteen members of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Organisation (PSO) were caught on CCTV kidnapping human rights campaigner Nizar Banat in June 2021, in footage obtained in full by the JC.

The aspiring politician was targeted after he highlighted the corruption of the Palestinian leadership on Facebook and other platforms. The footage shows them bundling him into a car and later carrying his partly-clothed body into their security headquarters.

Britain has been training and supporting Abbas’s security services since 2011 at a cost of more than £65 million to the taxpayer, raising serious questions about Whitehall’s judgment.

Palestinian activists have accused the UK of turning a blind eye to the systematic use of torture and widespread human rights abuse on the West Bank.

Diala Ayesh, a human rights lawyer and friend of the victim — who has herself been beaten and sexually abused by PA thugs — said:

“You [British] say you support human rights, but when I see the atrocities the PA is creating, I say you must stop paying your money. This isn’t just on my country. It’s on yours.”

The JC investigation — the first of a series marking the upcoming 30th anniversary of the first Oslo Accord that led to the establishment of the PA —reveals that torture by British-backed forces remains routine on the West Bank.

Attitudes in the Palestinian security forces remain intransigent, despite years of British involvement. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top PA official defended the use of torture, claiming that it was justified in order to gather intelligence.

He also said that Banat deserved to be killed because he was “rude” to the men who killed him and his open criticism of the PA was undermining it.

“If I’d been there, I would have joined in the beating,” said the official, who has worked with British representatives. “I believe Banat deserved what happened to him. When you listen to his videos, you can see he was not stable.”

He added: “I say [to British partners], yes we use torture if it is needed. If I know I will save your kids’ lives if I torture someone, I will torture him.”

By the time of his death, Mr Banat was at the head of a powerful grassroots movement that campaigned against PA corruption and abuse.

His online videos exposng the regime’s failings were watched by hundreds of thousands. As his profile grew, he was repeatedly arrested for “insulting national sentiment” and “harming the PA”.

Last year, after President Abbas cancelled the general elections — in which Mr Banat was due to stand as leader of a new party, Dignity and Freedom — Mr Banat called on the EU to pile pressure on the PA by suspending aid.

Shortly afterwards he was kidnapped and killed, attacked by a gang with such violence that he suffered 42 separate injuries, an autopsy later revealed.

His murder triggered weeks of protests across the West Bank, which were violently suppressed by PA security forces. Officers sexually assaulted women, made arbitrary arrests and beat protesters in custody.

Mr Banat’s brother, Ghassan, a construction engineer who campaigns for justice for the murdered activist, told the JC: “He was the Palestinian George Floyd, and his death was every bit as shocking and significant.”

Mr Banat, 43, a father-of-five who made his living as a carpenter, had once been a member of the PA ruling party, Fatah.

But according to his brother, he had come to believe “that before we can create a Palestinian state, we must cleanse ourselves”. He began publishing online videos highlighting Palestinian corruption in 2007.

By the time of his death, he had 300,000 followers.

The night after Mr Banat wrote to the EU asking it to stop funding the PA, on the grounds it had become “undemocratic, corrupt and illegitimate”, gunmen shot at his family home in Hebron.

He responded defiantly, denouncing the PA once again on Arabic TV channels based outside the West Bank, while his supporters demonstrated in Hebron.

However, the shooting prompted him to move to a flat several miles away, in a part of the West Bank where security is controlled by Israel.

Mr Banat’s lawyer, Mohammed Karajeh, the head of the Palestinian civil rights group Lawyers for Justice, told the JC:

“Two days before his death, he called me and said, ‘I am running from the PA. They want to kill me’. I cry when I remember that. I thought he was exaggerating.”

Later, it emerged that Mr Banat had also received many death threats.

The attack began at 3.17 am on 24 June 2021. A gang of plainclothes PSO men arrived in three stolen cars at the flat where Mr Banat was staying. Much of what unfolded was recorded by CCTV cameras in the street.

“They smashed their way in with a hammer,” the victim’s brother said. “One opened the door and the others attacked. They hit his head with a hammer, then forced him to his feet and handcuffed him. After that they pepper-sprayed him in the face.”

There were two witnesses to the attack. They said that Mr Banat was led away conscious and able to walk, as CCTV images obtained by the JC confirm.

Outside, he was bundled into a VW Polo. Accompanied by a Kia and a Hyundai, it drove away, heading for the PSO headquarters in Hebron. Further CCTV images show his arrival 20 minutes later.

His lifeless body can be seen being hauled out of the vehicle and carried into the building. According to Ghassan, he had likely been suffocated inside the vehicle.

“No one knows exactly what happened in the car,” he said. “But he was walking when he left the house.”

Ten minutes later, the security officers arrived at the hospital with Mr Banat’s body. He was certified dead on arrival.

Three days after the killing, the PA set up an investigatory committee which concluded that he had not been murdered but had died from a heart attack.

This was widely dismissed as a cover-up. As the street protests swelled, intense pressure from Britain, Canada and the US forced the PA to launch a new investigation.

This reversed the previous conclusion, finding that Mr Banat had indeed been murdered.

The 14 PSO men were charged and remanded in custody.

The victim’s brother, Ghassan, was then subjected to intimidation himself.

“One night, a white car came to my door and the driver fired three shots in the air to scare me,” he said. “Another time, I was chased in Ramallah by a car full of guys pointing their guns at me.

“There have been constant threats on my phone and on Facebook. I decided to get my own gun that I carry at all times. To protect my family, I have moved out of our home.”

The alleged killers — all of whom deny murder — have been publicly supported by Fatah.

In one party Facebook post, Colonel Aziz Tmaizi, the death squad’s alleged leader, was praised as being “well-known for his good character”.

Last month, all 14 were released without bail, supposedly because of the risk of catching Covid in prison. Three weeks later, one of them got married.

Wedding pictures show that numerous PSO men attended as guests, including several of the other accused.

“I do not believe they will ever go to trial,” Ghassan said.

None of the 14 had responded to interrogation, he added, meaning it remains unknown who had ordered the murder. Photographs of Mr Banat’s autopsy, obtained by the JC, reveal that he had dark bruising on his neck and upper chest, suggesting that the PA thugs sat or knelt on his airway.

His 42 separate injuries included five broken ribs where they joined his sternum. Signs of suffocation included haemorrhages around his eyes and blood and other fluid in his lungs.

The photographs also show deep, bloody lacerations in his mouth, caused by a pepper spray fired at point-blank range.

Also visible are cuts and bruising to his face, skull, torso and limbs, caused by hammer blows.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “Just as in Afghanistan, where billions were spent on Afghan forces for very little and abuse went on, this is an example of British arrogance, the idea that by using British funds and British training you can transform an organisation with a completely different culture.

“Banat was a campaigner for democracy, but the PA is corrupt. There are numerous countries in the region that exist on repression and corruption, and for us to encourage another state like this is morally bankrupt. British funds should not be going to forces that torture and murder people.”

The Palestinian security training courses are delivered by a British Support Team based in Ramallah and Jerusalem, led by a brigadier.

Britain has also sponsored a range of other initiatives intended to stop torture and other forms of abuse.

They include the Palestinian Security Sector Working Group, which Britain co-chairs. Government officials meet regularly with PA ministers and senior PA security officials at its meetings.

This, according to the Foreign Office, “allows the UK to influence decision making and push through key reforms, including human resources and budget management, and to reinforce the importance of respect for human rights”.

Since the early 2000s, the British Support Team has worked closely with an American team led by a three-star general based in Jerusalem.

Their joint “areas of focus” are officially described as “training, human resources, budgetary planning, gender and inclusivity and working to reduce torture and mistreatment in detention”.

A formal “three-tier package of British training” for Palestinian officers began in 2008. Courses are given to students and instructors at al-Istiqlal university in Jericho, the PA’s security academy.

As well as human rights, the training includes what Foreign Office documents call “inclusivity and gender awareness”. Students also learn about the law of armed conflict and broader security methods.

In official reports, Britain has repeatedly claimed that its efforts — run jointly by the Foreign office and the Ministry of Defence — to reform Palestinian forces are succeeding.

In one 2011 document, the Foreign Office stated: “The PA leadership is committed to strengthening human rights and is making good progress,” adding that Britain was “working to promote their professionalism, including on human rights”.

In a review of Britain’s involvement in 2018, the Foreign Office awarded itself an official score of “A+”.

Its programmes had “exceeded expectations” for developing “accountable and responsive security and justice services”, it claimed. As a result, “citizens have been empowered… to hold authorities to account”.

But the report also admitted: “Whilst on paper certain [PA] counterparts may have included references to human rights principles in their policies, plans, and procedures, this rarely translated into actual implementation.”

Former Labour MP Joan Ryan, executive director of NGO Elnet UK, which strengthens relations between Britain and Israel, told the JC:

“The significant amount of aid given by the UK in good faith is being abused by corrupt and dangerous forces within the PA.

“This misuse of taxpayers’ money is hurting the very people the government is seeking to help. There needs to be a serious re-think about how the UK government can best support Palestinians.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK Government is clear that further improvements are needed in the Palestinian security sector.

"We regularly raise concerns about the handling of complaints of mistreatment, arbitrary detention or human rights abuses at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority, including the failure to deliver a transparent investigation and accountability following the death in custody of Nizar Banat.”

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