The Assassination of Basel al-Araj: How the Palestinian Authority Stamps Out Opposition
In the early hours of March 6, Israeli soldiers raided a house in Ramallah and killed prominent youth political activist and thinker Basel al-Araj. Israeli soldiers had pursued al-Araj for months following his release in September from a Palestinian Authority (PA) prison where he was detained without trial and reportedly tortured. Al-Araj was a vocal critic of the Israeli occupation and of the PA, and he advocated grassroots struggle against both. He was not formally affiliated with any faction but was one of an emerging group of young leaders in Palestine that called for revitalizing the stagnant Palestinian national movement.
The circumstances of his arrest, release and subsequent extrajudicial killing suggest that the PA was compliant if not complicit in al-Araj’s death. President Mahmoud Abbas boasted of al-Araj’s arrest as an example of the PA’s successful security coordination with Israel. His killing in an area designated to be under PA security control is likely another product of that coordination. Rising figures like al-Araj, who offer a new type of political activism and leadership, represent a challenge to the PA’s control and growing distance from the people it purports to represent.
Security coordination with Israel is one way for the PA to ensure its dominance and eliminate its rivals. The PA’s decision to proceed with trying al-Araj posthumously, which was cancelled amidst violent suppression of the protests that ensued, confirm as much. However, missing from the overwhelming condemnations of al-Araj’s assassination is an understanding that the PA’s ability to eliminate competition existed long before his untimely death, and only intensified since 2007 in the aftermath of Hamas’ landslide democratic victory and the subsequent national political rift.