With no food for 77 days, his struggle for freedom continues

A man embraces a poster of a man

Palestinians in Gaza City rally in solidarity with hunger striker Maher al-Akhras, on 10 October.

Yasser Qudih APA images

Palestinian Maher al-Akhras is severely ill and at risk of death after 77 days of continuous hunger strike to protest his detention by Israel without charge or trial.

Al-Akhras, 49, is from the occupied West Bank town of Silat al-Dahr, near Jenin. He is married and has six children.

Israel has jailed him repeatedly and he has spent a total of five years in its prisons.

Israeli forces arrested him again on 27 July and placed him in administrative detention for four months – which can be renewed indefinitely.

Israel’s use of administrative detention is a direct continuation of a British colonial practice, and according to prisoners rights group Addameer may amount to a war crime as it deprives prisoners of their right to a fair trial.

Administrative detainees are held on supposed “secret” evidence against them that neither they nor their lawyers can see.

Al-Akhras launched an open-ended hunger strike soon after his detention began.

Israeli prison authorities have transferred al-Akhras to the Kaplan Medical Center in central Israel, where his condition is reported to be critical.

He is refusing to take supplements that provide essential minerals in the absence of food.

The hospital moved al-Akhras this week to a different room after a nearby patient tested positive for the new coronavirus.

“My death would be a murder by the occupation,” al-Akhras said in a video from his hospital bed earlier this month.

“It is not in my hands. Israel has the power to release or detain.”

Al-Akhras said he will continue to refuse food and negotiations.

Last week, he rejected an offer by the Shin Bet – Israel’s domestic intelligence agency – to complete his current administrative detention term, which ends on 26 November, the Safa Palestinian Press Agency reported.

Ahlam Haddad, his lawyer, said he will persist with his strike until his immediate release.

“My only conditions are freedom or death,” al-Akhras said in the video.

Taghrid al-Akhras, his wife, announced last week that she was launching a hunger strike in solidarity with her husband.

Meaningless freeze

On 23 September, Hadded filed a petition with Israel’s highest court to revoke her client’s administrative detention order.

The court responded by “freezing” the order. It explained its decision by saying that al-Akhras’ critical health condition means he does not represent a “security” threat, according to human rights group Al-Haq.

However, such “freezes” – which Israeli courts have previously imposed in the cases of other hunger strikers – change nothing in practice: Al-Akhras is still not free to leave the hospital and return home. Nor is he even freely allowed to receive visitors.

On 1 October, the high court rejected another petition filed for his release, claiming that his order was currently “inactive” and therefore could not be revoked.

It would appear therefore that the only effect of the “freeze” is further to deny him any opportunity for relief through the Israeli courts, while he remains a prisoner without charge or trial.

Israel’s high court rejected on Thursday a petition filed by his attorney to release al-Akhras from administrative detention “on the basis of the state’s stance on the matter,” according to Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.

Israel’s high court habitually acts as a rubberstamp for the state’s demands.

False claims

In a closed session with Israel’s high court, the state reportedly claimed that al-Akhras “had been recorded boasting” of being a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad political and resistance organization from his hospital bed.

Haaretz reported that the transcript the state presented to the court did “not contain any reference” by al-Akhras to Islamic Jihad.

His lawyer said that al-Akhras denies Israel’s claims that he is a current member of the political organization.

Israel considers virtually all Palestinian parties to be “terrorist” organizations.

Solidarity

Islamic Jihad assigned Israel “full responsibility” for the life of al-Akhras.

A senior member of the group warned that if “anything wrong” happens to al-Akhras, Israel would “bear the consequence of stalling” his release.

Activists and former prisoners are holding a sit-in at the Red Cross office in the West Bank city of Jenin in solidarity with al-Akhras.

They include veteran hunger striker Khader Adnan.

Palestinians rallied in Gaza in solidarity with al-Akhras, calling for his release:

Another demonstration took place near the Red Cross office in Beirut, Lebanon:

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.