With His Administrative Detention Frozen, Palestinian Continues Hunger Strike in Hospital

Doctors received permission to forcibly treat Maher Akhras but are refusing to do so on ethical grounds

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Maher Akhras in Rehovot’s Kaplan Hospital, where he has spent the past month, September 29, 2020.
Maher Akhras in Rehovot’s Kaplan Hospital, where he has spent the past month, September 29, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

A Palestinian who has been on a hunger strike for 60 days over his administrative detention, only drinking water, is demanding Israel does not detain him again if he is released from hospital. Meanwhile, doctors fear for his life.

The detainee, Maher Akhras, has spent the past month in Rehovot’s Kaplan Hospital, and although the hospital’s approved force feeding him, doctors have refused to treat him against his will. Last week, the ordered an injunction on his arrest, reasoning that the preventative justification for his administrative arrest was not present given his medical condition. Thus, his detention is effectively on hold.

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Akhras, who was initially arrested in late July, is continuing to refuse to receive treatment and is demanding a pledge that his arrest won’t be renewed upon his release from hospital.

Akhras, 49, is from the village of Silat ad-Dhahr, which is located north of Nablus. He was issued a four-month order on August 7. Akhras was accused, based on secret intelligence, of being a prominent member of Islamic Jihad, “who is involved in activity that endangers security in the area, incites and makes extremist statements.” He denied these accusations during his interrogation.

He has been on a hunger strike since his arrest and was taken to Kaplan Hospital on September 6. The hospital’s assistant director said in a written statement last Tuesday that Akhras was refusing examinations and that he was weak but conscious. He added that in the staff’s opinion continuing to drink only water would endanger his organs and life.

The Israeli High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, September 26, 2011.

Administrative detention involves no indictment, no revelation of confidential evidence, and no trial or judgment of the accusations against the prisoner. Not even Ahras’ lawyers can see the full range of evidence and suspicions against her client, and these can be renewed every few months indefinitely.

Last Wednesday, in the wake of a petition by attorney Ahlam Haddad, the High Court of Justice issued an injunction against the administrative detention of Akhras, reasoning that he didn’t constitute a danger because of his medical condition. The army wrote in response to the petition that security officials were expected to recommend extending his administrative detention another two months upon expiration of his current period of detention.

Haddad said that her client denies being a current member of Islamic Jihad and declares that he wasn’t involved in political activity during the period in question. “Israel claims he incites and has extremist views,” she said, “but they didn’t provide any proof, even when they were asked if he had incited on Facebook or if there was a quote of what he had said.”

“The only thing they asked me was about my meeting with friends who were jailed with me and had remained friends with me after prison,” Akhras told Haaretz. “I personally don’t know if any of my friends, whether or not they were in prison, were ever members in organizations. I told them, ‘If you know, arrest the friend you suspect. Do you have suspicions about me?’ Then they said, no, they have no evidence that I am a member of any organization.”

Akhras also said that he owns one of the largest cowsheds in the West Bank, and that he is the only breadwinner for his six children. “I haven’t been able to walk for 20 days,” he said. “I feel terribly dizzy and have a headache. Sometimes my eyesight weakens, and I hear a terrible noise in my ears, and I lose my ability to hear. Sometimes, I can’t sleep because of all the noise.”

This arrest is not the first one for Akhras. He admitted to belonging to a forbidden organization and arms possession as part of a plea bargain in 2005. Last year he also admitted, as part of a plea bargain, to offenses of membership in a forbidden association and supporting an enemy organization. His conviction noted that he had participated in Islamic Jihad marches, and delivered speeches at some of them, participated in the welcoming of released Islamic Jihad prisoners and posted inciteful material on Facebook. He was also held in administrative detention in 2009 and 2010.

MKs from the Joint List, including Ayman Odeh and Aida Touma-Sliman, sent a letter this week to Michael Biton, the minister at the Defense Ministry, demanding Akhras’ release. “In light of his serious condition and the real danger to his life, and in light of the patently immoral administrative detention, which violated international law, we request his immediate and absolute release,” they wrote.

The Israel Prison Service rejected a request last week by Maher’s wife, Ta’arid, for an entry permit into Israel to visit her husband while he was still in administrative detention. Physicians for Human Rights asked the Civil Administration to allow Ta’arid to entry into Israel, but that request was also denied. The NGO filed a petition on the matter, but the State Prosecutor sought to have the petition rejected out of hand.

Anat Litvin, director of the prisoner’s department at Physicians for Human Rights, said, “The responsibility for the life and health of Ahras is fully placed on Israel. The authorities insist repeatedly on denying the basic human rights of detainees like him, and use administrative detention – a draconian tool that has no place in a democracy. She added that, “After three months of detention, without anyone knowing what stands behind it, Israel must choose – either indict Akhras or release him immediately. Any other choice is a moral and legal abomination and is liable to lead to disaster.”

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