On June 24, an activist and outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Nizar Banat, was arrested and beaten to death by the PA security services.
Many are dubbing this a political assassination. Since then, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and beyond have hit the streets in protest. In their chants, the protesters demanded not only justice for Banat and his family but also the fall of the regime and the end of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s reign.
The security forces responded to the protests across the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah, with violence and repression. They used Israeli-manufactured crowd-control weapons such as tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters. Officers in uniform and in civilian clothing also beat up and arrested activists and journalists.
While demonstrations and protests have long been sites of gendered violence, in the last few weeks we have also witnessed an increase in the targeting of female protesters and activists. In addition to using sexist insults and insinuations that often amount to verbal sexual harassment, security forces in civilian clothing have also physically harassed female protesters.
The sexual harassment of women in such spaces aims to punish them for exercising their rights and deter them from taking part in future political action. Moreover, it leads to male activists, concerned about their safety, then attempting to dissuade them from participating in protests.
Outside of protests, secret services have been known to call on women’s and girls’ families to “discuss” their activism and even threaten them. Indeed misogyny is the modus operandi for the Palestinian security forces and the larger Palestinian political establishment.
Palestinian human rights organisations and other civil society organisations have collectively condemned the abuses and the violence we have seen in the past few weeks. Yet this oppression is not new – it is part of a systematic attempt by the PA to stifle political opposition and freedoms. And the PA security forces are a key pillar of that attempt. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, they have grown exponentially. Indeed, today nearly half of all PA civil servants are employed in the security sector. The security sector also has a budget that is larger than the education, health and agricultural sectors combined.