Palestinian Authority minister flees criticism at boycott conference

The Palestinian Authority’s minister of national economy Jawad Naji was chased out of the national boycott conference in Bethlehem University today. Participants in the BDS conference were angry with the PA’s politics of trade and normalization with Israel, and many openly criticized the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas himself.

The day-long conference saw attendee after attendee take the microphone during question-and-answer sessions, denouncing normalization with Israel and calling for better efforts to boycott Israeli products within the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abed Rabbo and Abbas denounced

They were also angry the PA has not followed through on promises dating from 2010 to prevent the “ubiquity” of settlement products in Palestinian shops in the West Bank. Long-time Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo was described as the “founder of normalization.”

During a session intended to allow activists to hold the PA and the PLO to account, questioner Nizar Banat challenged Naji, and pointed out the elephant in the room when it comes to local BDS. He exclaimed: Abbas says openly that he collaborates with the Israelis.

At this point Naji, who had been growing visibly uncomfortable at the mounting criticism, snapped. He accused the questioner of “barking” and shouted that he did not accept that someone could say “bad things” about “the president.”

The audience, who had loudly applauded Banat’s stinging denunciation of Abbas, then turned on Naji. The people demanded Naji apologize but he refused and instead walked out. The minister fled the hall with his entourage to angry chants of “get the minister out” and “collaborators!”

Beaten up for criticizing the PA

Banat later told the press he was beaten up by members of Naji’s entourage. In one video of the event, one of Naji’s men (presumably PA intelligence) can clearly be seen blocking the shot and assaulting the person taking the video.

BDS activist and organizer @BDS4justice witnesses the immediate aftermath of the assault on Banat.

He later told me on the phone that Banat was: “totally wrecked … he was full of blood.”

“Nizar is already well known,” explained @BDS4justice. He is “outspoken … from Hebron … well known as someone who’s against the PA.” Later “two people who identified themselves as being from Bethlehem Fateh” beat up Banat.

The two also went onto the bus that was returning participants to Hebron and went through people’s phones to check they didn’t have video of the assault.

BDS National Committee co-founder Omar Barghouti, who also spoke on the platform of the stormy session, told me later: “The BDS conference as being a popular conference, a grassroots conference, always gives a platform for grassroots activist to express themselves and this year we went beyond our normal [practice] by holding this accountability session … whereby officials from the PLO and the PA are questioned by the audience … about how about how they’re undermining the boycott … and we know this wont be easy … some of them were quite angry.”

Despite the minister’s walk-out, the conference reconvened and successfully concluded. I’ll follow up with a report on the wider substance of the conference itself soon. Update: here it is.

Asa Winstanley is currently reporting from Palestine. Simultaneous translation from Arabic was provided by the conference organizers.

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The Jerusalem Post reported that Nizar Banat's comment which provokes the ire of the PA minister was about security co-ordination:

"Nizar Banat, asked the minister why the PA and President Mahmoud Abbas were continuing to conduct security coordination with Israel while fighting “normalization” with Israelis.

In response, the angry minister called on the activist to to “stop barking.” The minister’s remark drew sharp criticism from the participants, who demanded that he leave the conference instantly." (http://www.jpost.com/Middle-Ea...)

Whereas, here and in Ma'an news, it is claimed that Banat "exclaimed: Abbas says openly that he collaborates with the Israelis."

If the J-Post's reporting is false, that is one thing. But if the claim is true, then I am shocked and surprised in sadness that Electronic Intifada has shied away from including the issue of security co-ordination from its coverage. Security Co-ordination is a key pillar of Israeli stability, and something that anti-normalization activists are fully within their rights to speak out against.

Asa Winstanley's picture

I don’t really understand your point. Yes, Binat was talking about “security coordination,” which is just a euphemism for collaboration with the Israeli enemy anyway.

Zionist Arab Khaled Abu Tomeh (look him up) is not really being honest in his report, in which he has it backwards: he’s trying to imply that participants were denouncing PA efforts against normalization. Actually the opposite was true: they were annoyed the PA is undermining anti-normalization efforts.

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Israel is having a field day making points with China, Russia and the US by shifting support to Assad with it's attacks on Syrian soil. At the same time Israel is enjoying the rebels and Hezbollah eviscerate one another and Assad become more compliant with the west, watch it happen.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are following suit and providing Israel with more than it could ask for, short of a mass exodus. It's like drinking oil.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.