A Tale of Two Hospital Visits, and Two Sets of Morals

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Maher Akhras, an administrative detainee who is on hunger strike, Kaplan Hospital, Rehovot, September 29, 2020.
Maher Akhras, an administrative detainee who is on hunger strike, Kaplan Hospital, Rehovot, September 29, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel is a sensitive, compassionate man. Last week he paid a visit to the COVID-19 ward at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva and afterward posted on Twitter what he saw: “A man about my age, a father of four, lies in intensive care, on a ventilator between life and death. His family cannot visit him. The only thing left is to pray.”

The day before, the minister of mercy and humanity saw the picture of a different patient, also a man around his age, also teetering between life and death. His family, too, cannot visit and can only pray for his survival. This time, the cabinet minister was less shaken by the sight. Much less. In fact, he was not shaken at all. The fate of this dying man did not move him; perhaps he even rejoiced in his suffering. Standing at the bedside of the hunger striker Maher Akhras was MK Ofer Cassif, who had come with fellow Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen to bolster that patient’s spirits. This is what Hendel wrote about this hospital visit: “This is exactly why there is no chance I will agree to a partnership with the Joint [List]. I am a Zionist who supports the full absorption of Israeli Arabs, and not the absorption of those who support [Israel’s] enemies. A reminder to those who have lost their way.”

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Here’s a reminder for Hendel, who knows a thing or two about losing the way. Akhras is the most courageous person in Israel at present, a freedom fighter who is willing to sacrifice his life. The success of his struggle will actually contribute to Israeli democracy, certainly much more than Hendel’s path of racism and political deceit. Hendel does not forget his bigotry for even a moment, not even when confronted with the image of a person who is close to death: The caring and compassion that overwhelmed him in the face of the Israeli patient vanished without a trace in the case of the Palestinian. Unlike Hendel, however, the dying Palestinian is a man of principles.

Akhras has been on a hunger strike for close to 90 days, demanding he be released from administrative detention. Israel’s High Court of Justice denied his request. The justices kindly agreed to suspend his administrative detention – that is, detention without trial – until his condition improves, but they did not agree to guarantee that he will not be rearrested. Akhras courageously rejected the offer. Justices Isaac Amit and Ofer Grosskopf wrote in the majority decision that they were satisfied that the detention was fully justified. And when the carriers of the beacon of justice are satisfied, and they vindicate the disgrace known as detention without trial, then Israel can no longer be considered a democracy. All this is beyond the ken of Hendel, that ersatz democrat.

Around 350 people are currently being held in Israeli jails under administrative detention, including two juveniles. At times there have been as many as 1,000. The High Court was satisfied then as well, and Hendel’s dead conscience was never moved to question the character of the state that abducts and locks up tens of thousand of people without charging them, in numbers that should terrify any person of principle.

This weekend, Akhras hovered between life and death. Few people care about his fate. Israel calls him a “terrorist,” without anyone having any idea of his crime and without presenting him with any evidence. The evidence that has been presented was a joke: a recording in which he allegedly boasted of belonging to Islamic Jihad. Hagar Shezaf revealed in Haaretz that the transcript shows he did not say this.

Yitzhak Ilan, a former deputy director and head of investigations of the Shin Bet security service who was known for his toughness, died late last week. Israel mourned him. Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote that Ilan was “one of the best people” he knew. The best (!). “He brought much light and saved the lives of many,” Gantz gushed.

It’s difficult to say how many lives he saved and how much light he brought. It’s much easier to say how much death and brutal torture he was responsible for. The blood of Akhras and of thousands of other Palestinians is on the hands of this secret police, the Shin Bet, where Ilan gained his glory. It’s doubtful there is another democratic state where this would be considered glory.

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