Activists concerned he'd receive worse care at prison clinic

Israeli lawmaker says he’ll join hunger strike of Palestinian security prisoner

Joint List’s Ofer Cassif protests refusal to allow Maher al-Akhras’s family to visit; Israeli authorities say he is dangerous — but also plan to free him in November

Maher al-Akhras, a 49-year-old security prisoner, while on hunger strike in Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, October 8, 2020 (Aaron Boxerman/Times of Israel)
Maher al-Akhras, a 49-year-old security prisoner, while on hunger strike in Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, October 8, 2020 (Aaron Boxerman/Times of Israel)

An Israeli lawmaker said Saturday he would join the hunger strike of a Palestinian security prisoner who has not eaten for three months and whose life is believed to be in danger.

MK Ofer Cassif, of the majority-Arab Joint List, said he would refuse to leave Maher al-Akhras’s side at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot until his family is allowed to see him.

On Friday the High Court of Justice blocked al-Akhras’s transfer from the hospital back to a prison medical facility.

Al-Akhras has not eaten for 90 days. He was arrested in late July and has been on a hunger strike in recent months to protest his detention without trial by Israeli authorities. He denies the Israeli accusation of current membership in a terror group and has maintained that he is not involved in any “security activity.”

The interim order was granted by the court after al-Akhras submitted an urgent petition against the transfer. Activists have said that moving him from a public hospital to a facility operated by the Israel Prison Service could lead to a deterioration in his care.

“In view of al-Akhras’s physical and medical condition, there is a grave fear that his body will collapse at any moment, and if that happens there is a big chance that the Israel Prison Service will not be able to transfer him to an advanced medical center,” Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement to the Haaretz daily. “In addition, there is concern that what Kaplan’s doctors did not agree to do — forced treatment or feeding — will be done at the IPS clinic.”

Israeli left-wing activists lift a placard bearing the picture of Palestinian administrative detainee Maher al-Akhras during a demonstration calling for his release in front of Kaplan medical center in the central city of Rehovot, on October 11, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Before the court order was granted, al-Akhras had been set Friday for release by Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, and transfer back to a prison medical facility.

Officials said al-Akhras had refused treatment, and that his large number of visitors posed a danger during the coronavirus pandemic, Haaretz reported.

The hospital told the newspaper that it “acted on medical considerations only, and in accordance with the decisions of the authorities.”

A UN Palestinian rights official on Friday called for al-Akhras to be released, saying he was in a precarious medical condition.

“Al-Akhras is now in very frail condition, having gone without food for 89 days,” Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian territories told the Wafa news agency. “Recent visits by doctors to his hospital bed in Israel indicate that he is on the verge of suffering major organ failure, and some damage might be permanent.”

Al-Akhras is being held in administrative detention, which allows terror suspects to be held indefinitely without trial, in renewable increments of up to six months. While detainees can appeal the detention itself to the High Court of Justice or lower district courts, the suspects do not receive full trials or have access to the evidence against them.

Palestinians and international rights groups have condemned the practice, contending that Israel abuses it.

Palestinians protest in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoner Maher Al-Akhras, who is on hunger strike in Israeli jail; in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 10, 2020 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

According to the Shin Bet domestic security service, al-Akhras is involved in Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel.

But Israeli military prosecutors have decided not to renew his administrative detention, which is set to expire on November 26. Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice declined to immediately release al-Akhras before the deadline. Instead, it offered a compromise: Al-Akhras could end his hunger strike now, serve out the rest of his sentence, and his administrative detention would not be renewed afterwards unless new information came to light.

Al-Akhras refused, vowing to continue striking unless he was granted immediate and unconditional release. On September 6, the courts ruled that al-Akhras was too weak to remain in Ofer Prison, where he had been detained. He was subsequently transferred to Kaplan Medical Center, where he has remained ever since.

Al-Akhras, a 49-year-old resident of Silat al-Daher outside Jenin, has been arrested five times for alleged involvement in Islamic Jihad, according to the Shin Bet.

In 2005 and 2019, he pled guilty to membership in a banned organization,  according to Haaretz, which added that court filings stated that he had attended Islamic Jihad marches, including delivering speeches at some of them, and posted extremist material on Facebook.

If Al-Akhras were to die, it could ignite conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Both Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and former Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal have demanded that Israel immediately let him go.

Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades, which has committed numerous attacks against Israeli civilians, has threatened retribution against Israel in the event that al-Akhras dies from his hunger strike.

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