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.