Joint List MK slams 'unprecedented state intransigence'

Palestinian security prisoner’s hunger strike hits 100 days

Shin Bet detained Maher al-Akhras without charges on suspicion of membership in Islamic Jihad in late July; he denies being part of terror group

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)

Palestinian security detainee Maher al-Akhras continued his hunger strike for the 100th consecutive day on Tuesday in protest of his detention without trial by Israeli authorities, who have accused him of involvement in a terror group.

For over a month, his attorney and human rights organizations involved in his case have been warning that al-Akhras is in serious medical danger should his hunger strike continue.

“He is in immediate, fatal danger. People who begin hunger strikes and drink nothing but water for days on end begin to die around the 75th day,” said Physicians for Human Rights-Israel staffer Anat Litvin, who specializes in prisoners’ rights.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Commission said in a statement on Sunday that al-Akhras’s health has severely deteriorated over the past few days, and he has begun to lose his sight and hearing due to the damage caused by his self-imposed starvation.

Maher al-Akhras before his 2020 arrest (Screenshot: Roya News)

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 it is unusual for them to last as long as al-Akhras’s. The last strike of such a length was in 2019, when Ahmad Ghannam, a prisoner from Doura, refused to eat for 102 days until Israel agreed not to renew his administrative detention.

Knesset Member Osama Saadi attends a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on July 2, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Al-Akhras’ strike is notably different from others who had hunger strikes for a long time. He has refused vitamins and salt and all kinds of medical treatment. This is the longest strike of its kind that I am aware of. We’ve seen eighty days, even one hundred days, but not like this,” said Joint List MK Osama Saadi on Monday. Saadi oversees the prisoners’ rights portfolio for the largely Arab parliamentary bloc.

Israeli authorities have already said that they do not intend to renew al-Akhras’s administrative detention, which is scheduled to expire on November 27. But al-Akhras has refused to end his hunger strike without immediate release.

His defense has appealed to Israel’s High Court on several occasions seeking al-Akhras’ immediate release. But the High Court has declined, emphasizing that the evidence of al-Akhras’s involvement in Islamic Jihad revealed to judges behind closed doors is substantive.

Saadi blamed what he called “unprecedented state intransigence” in refusing to release al-Akhras, saying that other prisoners on hunger strike have reached deals with Israeli authorities to secure their release.

Al-Akhras, a 49-year-old dairy farmer from Silat al-Daher outside Jenin, has been arrested several times for his alleged involvement in Islamic Jihad, according to the Shin Bet. He was arrested for the fifth time in late July.

Soon after his arrest, al-Akhras began a hunger strike to protest his detention without trial by Israeli authorities. After his health deteriorated, he was transferred from Ofer Prison to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.

According to the Shin Bet domestic security service, which is responsible for counter-terrorism in the West Bank, al-Akhras is involved in Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel. The organization has conducted numerous terror attacks against Israelis since its founding in 1981.

Al-Akhras confessed to membership in a banned group on two occasions as part of plea bargains, according to military court filings obtained by The Times of Israel. The filings also state that he participated in Islamic Jihad marches, illegally possessed weaponry and posted extremist material on social media.

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

Al-Akhras is being held under a controversial procedure known as administrative detention, which allows terror suspects to be held indefinitely without trial in renewable six-month terms. While detainees can appeal the detention itself to the High Court of Justice or lower district courts, the suspects do not receive formal charges, trials or access to the evidence against them.

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. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

Administrative detention is considered to be an extreme tool under international law. Israel makes extensive use of it against Palestinians, as well as some Jewish Israelis, occasionally holding them for years without charges or a trial. Israeli security officials have defended the measure as a necessary tool to combat terrorist activity.

Around 387 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, according to the human rights group HaMoked.

United Nations Special Envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council last Tuesday that he was “deeply concerned” over al-Akhras’s condition. Mladenov also reiterated the international community’s longstanding opposition to Israel’s use of administrative detention.

“All held in administrative detention should be promptly charged and tried in a court of law or released without delay,” Mladenov said.

The Arab-led Joint List parties have led several protests outside of Kaplan Hospital to call for his release. Joint List MK Ofer Cassif even briefly joined al-Akhras’s hunger strike when the detainee was denied family visitation rights two weeks ago.

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.

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

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