Images of the bloodied, battered body of Ahmad Halaweh spread like wildfire on social media last week, causing widespread outrage in Palestinian society.
The Nablus-area leader of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades was brutally beaten to death by Palestinian Authority (PA) police, while he was being detained for his alleged role in the killing of two PA security officers days earlier.
After being taken to a Nablus prison on August 23, Halaweh reportedly began insulting and shouting at police, who then killed him, according to Ma’an News Agency.
The killing sparked protests and rioting in Nablus, with upcoming local elections in the district postponed in response to the murder. On the day of Halaweh’s death, hundreds of protesters clashed with the PA in Nablus, with security forces firing tear gas and chasing demonstrators through the streets.
لحظة قمع الأجهزة الأمنية لمسيرة نابلس المنددة بمقتل أحمد حلاوة قبل قليل. pic.twitter.com/xY3T5YQVlI
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) August 23, 2016
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced an investigation into the incident, which he called “exceptional.” For many Palestinians, however, the murder is further evidence of the violence the PA is willing to use to maintain a monopoly on force, and power, in the West Bank.
While the PA describes its recent security operations in Nablus as part of a long-term campaign targeting “fugitives”, many in the city feel it is an abuse of power designed to crackdown on anti-PA actors. Nablus, especially Balata refugee camp, was a center of armed resistance against Israel during the Second Intifada, but Fatah gunmen loyal to former President Yasser Arafat have fallen out of favor with President Mahmoud Abbas, leading to a crackdown.
These PA raids have proven unpopular with Nablus’s residents, fueling widely held grievances against the Palestinian governing body. International rights groups have long accused PA security forces of torture and abuse against prisoners in detention. In 2013, Amnesty International accused PA security forces of repeated “unprovoked and unlawful” attacks on peaceful protests. Since Fatah and Hamas fell out in 2007, the Fatah-dominated PA has detained thousands of Fatah’s political opponents.
Amid these frustrations with the PA’s abuse of power, the killing of Halaweh may well have unintended long-term consequences for Palestinian politics. Those opposed to the PA quickly capitalized on the killing, with Hamas calling it an “execution” that showed the “bloody nature of the Palestinian Authority’s security services.”
With Hamas due to participate in this October’s long overdue municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza (a first since 2006), the Halaweh killing could prove to be a decisive tipping point for grievances against PA corruption and abuse, ending Fatah’s dominance of Palestinian politics and handing victory to its rival.