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Palestinian security prisoner freed by Israel after ending 103-day hunger-strike

Maher al-Akhras had protested being held in administrative detention without charges on suspicion of terror links; stopped fast in return for freedom

Palestinian detainee Maher al-Akhras arrives at his home in the West Bank village of Seylat al-Dhahr, south of Jenin city, following his release by Israeli authorities on November 26, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Palestinian detainee Maher al-Akhras arrives at his home in the West Bank village of Seylat al-Dhahr, south of Jenin city, following his release by Israeli authorities on November 26, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israel on Thursday released a Palestinian who waged a 103-day hunger strike to protest rules allowing his detention without charge, the Palestinian Prisoners Club said.

Maher al-Akhras, arrested over alleged membership of a terror group, was transferred from a Tel Aviv hospital to Nablus’s Al-Najah University Hospital in the West Bank, the prisoners’ rights group said in a statement.

A decision on allowing him to return home followed “a medical assessment of his condition,” Al-Najah hospital medical director Abdul-Karim Al-Barqawi said.

Al-Akhras, 49, was arrested near Nablus in July and put in administrative detention, a policy that Israel uses to hold suspected terrorists without charge, in cases where it says revealing the evidence in court would damage national security.

He is suspected of links to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, labeled a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

According to the Shin Bet security service, al-Akhras is a “prominent Islamic Jihad activist.” Al-Akhras denies current membership in the terror group and says that he is not involved in any “security activity.”

The father of six launched his fast to protest a four-month detention order, which ended Thursday.

Al-Akhras, who had been arrested by Israel several times previously, ended his hunger strike last Friday after Israeli authorities committed to not extending his detention beyond that date.

Parliamentarians from the predominantly-Arab Joint List party gather in Palestinian security detainee Maher al-Akhras’ room at Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, on November 6, 2020 to wish him well on the end of his hunger strike. (Joint List spokesperson)

Members from the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties in the Knesset, MKs Osama Saadi, Ofer Cassif, Ahmad Tibi, Waleed Taha and former MK Mohammad Barakeh, crowded around al-Akhras’s bed at the time to wish him well at the end of his hunger strike.

The Hamas terror group also praised what it described at the time as “a great victory for al-Akhras and for the prisoners’ movement, as well as for all of our Palestinian people.”

Al-Akhras refused on several occasions to end his strike unless Israel released him immediately. But he retreated from that demand as part of the deal he reached with Israeli authorities on Friday night.

Instead, the hunger striker reportedly received a pledge not to be rearrested after his detention order expired.

Palestinian security detainees often use hunger strikes as a form of protest, as in a prison-wide strike led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti in 2017. But al-Akhras’s hunger strike was both exceptionally long and exceptionally harsh. Other prisoners have taken vitamins, chewed salt, and accepted medical treatment to curb the worst effects of self-imposed starvation; al-Akhras refused them all.

Al-Akhras’s case received considerable attention from both Palestinians and the international community. The United Nations and the European Union — both of which have long opposed Israel’s use of administrative detention — had expressed concern over al-Akhras’s deteriorating health and called for Israel to either release al-Akhras immediately or charge him in a court of law.

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)

Israel’s administrative detention policy, inherited from the British mandate of Palestine, allows the internment of prisoners without charge for renewable periods of up to six months each time.

Israel says the procedure allows authorities to hold suspects and prevent attacks while continuing to gather evidence, but critics and rights groups say the system is abused.

Around 355 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention orders as of August, including two minors, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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