Maher Akhras is still clinging to life. He struggles with every breath, but even 95 days of starvation have not defeated him. However, as far as Israeli High Court justices Uzi Vogelman, George Karra and Alex Stein are concerned, the Israeli hospital bed on which he lies is already occupied by a dead man. He is now on the 95th day of his hunger strike, after he was kidnapped from his home in the dead of night by armed men and jailed without charge or due process; without even being told what he is suspected of or being confronted with any evidence of wrongdoing.
But really, what right has he to complain? The despicable practice of detention without charge is rather common throughout the world, in other dictatorships too – ones which make not nearly as much effort to present themselves as democracies. Unlike them, Israel has given this practice a decent-sounding name. In Israel, such detention isn’t simply “without charge or trial” – it is “administrative.” And the courts sign off on it too, with a rubber stamp seal of approval.
At death’s door, the judges were inclined to save face and temporarily suspend Akhras’ detention, on medical grounds and on condition that he remains confined to the specific Israeli hospital he is currently in. But one cage, albeit bigger and more comfortable, is not inherently different than the other, and Akhras continues to refuse any food, until he is truly set free. When declining to order his release – again, for the third time – the judges knew full well that their ruling is, in the most literal way, a death sentence.
The obvious injustice of detention without trial and the lack of so-called due process can be easily identified and perceived as a distinct deviation from otherwise normative judicial norms. However, for Palestinians, this would be distorting the truth. Whether Israel defines their capture as “administrative” or otherwise, Palestinians are not, and by definition cannot be, subject to fair trial by Israel.
The Israeli legal system, and specifically, its military courts under which West Bank Palestinians are tried, is an integral part of the regime and a key weapon in Israel’s arsenal for quelling dissent to the regime. That detention without trial is appalling and torturous is obvious to anyone accustomed to the judicial norms of liberal democracies. For this reason, the practice is an effective target for exposing the make-believe nature of Israeli democracy – from the gutters of the military courts all the way up to the celebrated halls of justice of the Israeli High Court.
In a recording from his bed at the hospital, Akhras, who could barely muster up the strength to speak, said defiantly: “I choose to be free among my children or die in the name of false justice.” He did not say “charge or release,” as liberal human rights organizations often demand, but rather, simply “release.” These clear and eloquent words of a dying man are a stark reminder that extrajudicial detention is not an exception to the norm, but is rather just the far end of the scale in the measures used to administer Israeli rule over Palestinians.
The fight against the regime of Jewish supremacy in Palestine must continue without compromise, but the execution of Maher Akhras is taking place at this very moment. Now, right now, as the noose tightens around his neck is our last chance of saving him while we still can. We must do so, by any means necessary.