'In the Next Few Hours My Life Is in Concrete Danger. I Don’t Want to Die, but I'm Not Giving Up'

An interview with Maher Akhras, a Palestinian whom Israel is jailing without a trial, and who has been on a hunger strike for 100 days. 'I do not choose death. But I am standing steadfast until all of us, as human beings, are free'

Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz
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Maher Akhras at Kaplan Medical Center, November 3, 2020.
Maher Akhras at Kaplan Medical Center, November 3, 2020.Credit: Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz

The interview, which this column usually conducts over the phone, was done face-to-face at the interviewee's room at Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, due to the condition of his health.

Hello to Maher Akhras, the administrative detainee who has been on a hunger strike for 100 days. My name is Nir Gontarz and I’m a journalist with Haaretz. Do you speak Hebrew?

A little.

With me is Rajaa Natour, the editor of Haaretz's Hebrew-Arabic Bilingual Arena. She’ll help me with the translation. How are you?

Praise the lord.

How old are you?


Your wife is here by your side. How many children do you have?

Six children. Three girls and three boys.

Where are you from?

A village near Jenin.

It’s obvious that your physical condition isn't good. How's your mental condition?

Praise the lord. In the meantime, stable.

Why are you here at Kaplan Hospital?

It was the decision of the court, and then of the military commander.

Were you there for the hearing?

I was not at any of the hearings. They were all done by video.

Not even the first one, when they sought to detain you for 96 hours for interrogation?

There was a video hearing in the military court.

Did you see the judge’s eyes?

The video image wasn’t clear. I couldn’t.

Were you interrogated by the Shin Bet security service after your arrest?

They refused to interrogate me. There was a judge who said, in the remand hearing, that the classified material before her was not enough to warrant an extension of my detention. She freed me. The Shin Bet and the state prosecutor asked for more time to interrogate me. In the end, she gave them six days to complete the interrogation. But they refused to interrogate me on those days. They didn’t ask me anything. I begged to be interrogated. After six days I refused to enter the court, because I hadn’t been interrogated. They placed me opposite a police interrogator named Afif. He questioned me for ten minutes. He said the suspicion is that I am connected to some organization with other people. The judge decided to free me, because there wasn't any cause for my arrest. But she delayed the implementation because they said they were considering placing me in administrative detention [incarceration without trial]. Then the military commander signed a four-month administrative detention order against me.

Let’s go back to the beginning. One day the Shin Bet showed up and just took you from your family? What did they tell you?

The army came and took me to a military base near Jenin.

And then?

They handed me a phone. On the line was the Shin Bet commander in the Jenin district. Captain “Rabia.” I know him personally.

And then?

He threatened me and laughed hysterically and ridiculed me. He said that he would humiliate me and leave me in prison. He said that he would destroy my family and my farm.

What do you grow on your farm?

I have a very large dairy cow farm.

Let’s go back to the conversation with Captain Rabia.

He told me that even if I were released, I would regret it.

I don’t understand.

He meant that he would wreck my life and that it would be preferable for me to be in detention.

What happened after that?

I was taken to Hawara [a large checkpoint just south of Nablus].

And then?

Then they took me to Ofer Camp [a prison near Ramallah].

When did you start your hunger strike?

Immediately after the conversation with Captain Rabia.

Did they try to force-feed you?

Here in Kaplan. The director of one of the wards tried to make me eat on day 42.

With a tube or a spoon?

Through the vein. They tried to tie me to the bed. But I was strong and didn’t let them do it. It made me very tired. Until then I was able to get out of bed to go to the toilet. Since then and until now, I can’t stand on my feet anymore.

According to the reports, some time ago the Shin Bet offered you a deal in which, if you stopped the hunger strike, they would let you out within two months. Do you understand the logic? How can it be that right now, you are so dangerous and need to be in custody, and just like that, in a few weeks you won't be dangerous anymore?

They offered to release me on November 29.

What’s the logic?

They want to break my hunger strike only so they can put me back in jail after my health improves. That is my fear.

I don’t feel in danger next to you, and it’s not because you’re so weak. But I don’t know a thing. Tell me, do you pose a danger for anyone in Israel?

No. I'm not a danger for anyone. Not Israeli citizens and not any other citizen in the world. I want us to live in peace, Jews and Arabs. I long for that. I don’t want us to raise weapons and fight one another.

I understand.

My medical condition at the moment requires two months of rehabilitation just to stand on my feet. If nothing happens to me until then.

I understand.

I despise the Shin Bet and the judges. How can they say things about me? It is inconceivable. My administrative detention is a disgrace to the Israeli judicial system.

I also think that to hold a person in detention without trial and without the ability to defend himself is a disgrace to the State of Israel. How long will you continue the hunger strike?

Until my freedom is given back to me and I get home to my children. The state’s intention is to execute me and to liquidate me. The decision is not in my hands, it is up to the Israeli legal system.

It’s possible that in the days ahead your consciousness will grow fuzzy or disappear. Have you permitted the doctors to give you nourishing substances at that stage?

I do not allow it.

Are you afraid that they will remove your wife from the room and force-feed you?

I am certain they will do that.

I’m sorry to say this, but you and your condition are of no interest to most of Israel’s citizens. To them you are just another Palestinian Arab in the best case, and a terrorist in the worst case. Still, there are a few who care about you and about your condition. Is there anything that minority can do for you?

Doctors, legal experts and human rights activists need to stand up to the legal system and act as a pressure group at the United Nations and all kinds of other international organizations that support human rights. In the coming hours and the coming days my life is in concrete danger. This is a critical time. I don’t want to die. I love life. I do not choose death. I want to live and return to my family. But I am standing steadfast until all of us, as human beings, will be free, and will live in freedom and will end the wars between the nations and between the states irrespective of religion. That is my faith and that is how I am educating my children and my relatives and my neighbors. I hope that all human beings will be able to realize their freedom.

Thank you. I hope you get well and leave this place soon and return to your family.

Thank you very much.

A spokesperson for Kaplan Hospital stated: "The hospital did not provide any treatment against the patient’s will and did not restrict him physically."

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