New Israeli aggression puts the life of Palestinian hunger striker in immediate danger
(The following article was published in Mondoweiss)
Maher al-Akhras, on hunger strike since his administrative detention on July 27, is waging an uneven battle against the mighty Israeli occupation apparatus. Every quite day brings him closer to death, with Israel trying to prove through his case that the life of Palestinians, like their freedom and human rights, are worth nothing. But the formidable insistence of Mr. al-Akhras that his hunger strike is against the principle of administrative detention, and that he would stop his strike only when free or martyr, is mobilizing more and more people to his support. Last Friday, on the 89 day of his hunger strike, it seemed that his Israeli torturers lost their nerve.
On the August 27, after he completed the first month of his hunger strike, Maher was transferred from the Ofer military prison to the central clinics of the Israeli “Prisons Service” in Ramleh prison. It is an institute with a very bad reputation called by the prisoners “a graveyard for the living”. On September 9, after farther deterioration in his medical condition, the prison’s doctors said they can’t treat him anymore and he was transferred to Kaplan hospital, a civilian institution in the town of Rehovot.
As Mr. al-Akhras continues his hunger strike, and as his body becomes ever more fragile, his lawyer Ahlam Haddad applied several times to Israel’s High Court to demand his immediate release. As usual in such cases, the high court judges heard the “secret accusations” against Mr. Akhras from the security services officers behind closed doors, without disclosing them to the prisoner or his lawyer, and refused to void the detention decree. However, on September 22, taking into account Mr. Akhras’ medical condition, they decided that in his current situation he couldn’t constitute any “danger to state security”. On this basis they suspended his detention, but said that even as he is not a detainee, he can’t go back home or to a hospital in the West Bank, so that if his situation will improve and the security services will want to renew his detention, he will be easy to get.
Still actually detained as “potential-administrative-detainee” in Kaplan hospital, Maher’s wife joined him in the hospital, there were several demonstrations in solidarity with him from of the hospital and his hospital bed became a point of attraction and pilgrimage for solidarity activists.
On Friday, October 23, the occupation authorities informed Mr. Akhras’ lawyer that the Kaplan hospital is not ready to keep him, due to the fact that he refuses their medical treatment and claiming that his visitors endanger other patients with viruses. They renewed his administrative detention and said Mr. Akhras was transferred again to the Ramleh prison clinic. This contradicts the High Court decision given on September 22, more than a month ago, that in his current medical situation Mr. Akhras doesn’t constitute any danger. Since then he was on hunger strike and there are clear medical reports about his deteriorating health to the level of imminent danger to his life or to permanent damage to his body systems. It also contradicts the prison medics themselves that stated on September 9 than they can’t treat him.
Lawyer Haddad immediately turned to the high court again, asking both to stop the prison authorities from moving Mr. Akhras to the prison clinics (it came out that he was not transferred yet), to abolish the renewal of the administrative detention and to order his immediate release based on his deteriorating health. On Friday their struggle won a small victory in the court, which ordered to suspend Mr. Akhras’ transfer and leave him in Kaplan hospital until the deliberations. The main plea is expected to be heard on Sunday, October 25.
Torturing the family
On Saturday afternoon, Maher’s family, his mother on wheelchair, his wife and three of their six children arrived in the Kaplan hospital to see their beloved son husband and father. They couldn’t come from their home in Silat a-Dhahr, near Jenin, in the permanently sieged West Bank, without special security clearance.
But, as they came, the prison guards now surrounding the patients’ room prevented them from entering even to have a glance of their dear one. The mother and the kids didn’t see Maher since he was arrested three month ago. Now, as there is an immediate danger to his life, this stubborn insistence by the guards was heart breaking.
The family and some of their supporters, including Knesset member Ofer Cassif from the “Joint list”, announced that they will be on hunger strike in the hospital until they will be allowed to meet Maher.
Despite the harsh political conditions and powerful distractions, there is a growing wave of solidarity actions with Maher al-Akhras.
The previous Saturday (October 17) there was a demonstration in Haifa, called by prisoners’ support activists and by Herak Haifa. The main street of the German Colony was closed and one activist was arrested. On Monday there was a central demonstration called by the “high coordination committee” – the united leadership of all Palestinian parties and movements in the 48 territories – near the Megiddo prison in the north.
When the news came of Maher’s transfer to the Ramleh prison clinics, activists immediately declared a vigil for Saturday in front of the Ramleh prison. When the news came later that Maher is actually still in the Kaplan hospital, the demonstration was extended – after finishing in Ramleh the demonstrators gathered again in front of the hospital.
On Saturday morning Mr. Akhras’ lawyer, Ahlam Haddad, visited him in the Kaplan hospital. She wrote down his words, describing Friday’s events and expressing his last wishes for his funeral and for the future of his people. Here is a translation to English of his words as she wrote them:
“This report that I write is in the words of prisoner Maher al-Akhras, who has been on hunger strike for 90 days, when I visited him today, Saturday morning, he says: “Yesterday 23-10-2020, 12 o’clock a force of prison guards, security service agents and hospital guards entered. They forced my wife to exit the room so I was left alone. Three prison guards got me out of the bed. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but they removed their grip and I fell on the ground on my face. Then they carried me and took me in a wheelchair to room 303 in the same department.
“At around 2pm, from the intensity of anger of what happened, I felt a strong headache, stress in my heart and severe pain throughout the body, the first time I felt these aches. My whole body shuddered and I did not hear anything and did not see anything. The medical staff gathered around me. According to what I remember, I told them not to touch me, I do not want you to treat me, and not to approach me. I don’t know what happened after that. I just woke up with the doctor next to me trying to wake me up and it was five in the afternoon. Three hours passed while I was unconscious.
“Today I feel very weak, my body shivering and trembling. I hardly can focus, talk or see. I feel stress on my heart.
“Maher’s message and will:
“I ask that my mother, my wife and my children will visit me.
“I do not want to die in Kaplan and I do not want them to help me. If they want to help me, let them take me to a hospital in the West Bank. I want to die among my family and my children.
“I do not want them to put me in the refrigerator and not to dissect my body at all, neither here nor in the West Bank.
“I want the veteran prisoners who wages the battle through hunger strikes and the families of the martyrs to carry my coffin.
“My will to my people is to protect the homeland.”