(The following article appeared today in Mondoweiss)
Tuesday, November 3rd, will be the 100th day of the hunger strike of Maher al-Akhras. That is, if he will still be alive. His body, deprived of all the vital ingredients for life except for water, is betraying him ever more. He shivers and trembles, suffers from all kinds of pains and sometimes loses his consciousness.
Israel is now waging a deadly campaign, over al Akhras’ decaying body, to rob the Palestinians of their weapon of last resort – hunger strikes. This weapon, which involves endless suffering and dangers, is anyway only used against the harshest and most brutal cases of injustice, like, in al-Akhras’ case, against administrative detention, a detention without indictment, without trial and without an expiration date.
Maher’s challenge to his torturers constitutes a uniting focus for Palestinian struggle in these dark days when it seems that the world hardly notices. Solidarity events were held all over Palestine, on both sides of the green line, and for tomorrow there is a central demonstration planned in front of the Kaplan hospital, where he is held against his will.
As he explained all through his hunger strike, al-Akhras is not striking for his personal freedom but as part of the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberty. The readiness of the striker to suffer, to scarify and to put his life in danger, help to draw solidarity and to concentrate minds. But the goal of the hunger striker and of his supporters is to get him free and alive. For this reason, as his medical condition is deteriorating, Maher is ready to stop his trike with a symbolic step to freedom by being transferred from the Israeli hospital to a Palestinian hospital, still under the same occupation. But, in a twist of events, it seems that the Israeli authorities are trying to use the opportunity and push Maher to his death as a “lesson” for Palestinians in general that their lives have no value at all.
The hierarchy of the Shabak state
The people that decided to put Maher al-Akhras under administrative detention, like many other hundreds of Palestinians every year, has no names and no faces. They are the agents of the all-powerful “Shabak” – the Hebrew acronym for General Security Service (GSS) – which, as far as the Palestinian population is regarded, is running the show unimpeded like a criminal gang.
I read the official protocol of what is called Israel’s “high court of justice”, in its hearing on October 28th, hearing al-Akhras’ lawyer appeal against his detention. The judges describe how “after hearing the arguments of the parties, we held a hearing with one side, with the consent of the petitioner, beyond closed doors, looked at the material presented to us by the security elements, we had a conversation and views-exchange with them.” To describe this “conversation and views-exchange” they use a very special Hebrew phrase, “sig va-siah” (שיג ושיח), that is sometimes translated to “powwow”, implying a special closeness. Unlike “the parties”, whose names appear at the head of the protocol, those “elements” that the judges throw everybody out of the court for a “get together” with them, are not mentioned by name, not even by the name of the organization that sent them.
And what did the “honorable” judges learned from their get together with those nameless elements? In a previous hearing they were presented with a false translation (as exposed in Haaretz) of an interview that al Akhras gave from his hospital bed. On the last hearing, they only say that “in the bottom line we have come to the conclusion that there is not in the petitioner’s arguments any medical advantage in transferring him to al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, over leaving him at Kaplan Hospital.” And this conclusion comes at the continuation of the very same sentence describing the “get together” with the “elements”!
So, as far as Israel’s “high court of justice” is concern, the Shabak is not only responsible to know how “dangerous” Palestinians are, but also what is best for their health… No doubt, the Shabak “medical” experts found that it is better for Maher al-Akhras to die in confinement at an Israeli hospital (where he refuses any treatment) than to have his life saved at a Palestinian hospital (even if under occupation).
You are not detained so you can’t be freed
The “legal” pretext that is supposed to justify administrative detention is that it is not a punishment for any offence, but a preventive measure against imminent “danger”. In an attempt to save face, the same court decided, on September 23, to suspend al Akhras’ detention as “in his current medical condition he doesn’t constitute a danger, so that the preventive intent of his detention doesn’t currently exist.” But they also decided that he should “stay in the same hospital where he is” and that in case that his medical conditions will improve his administrative detention may be resumed.
On September 30, the court refused another appeal to abolish al Akhras’ detention claiming that he is not under detention. So, on what basis is he held against his will in the Kaplan hospital? They claimed that, as his detention might be resumed, it will be hard for the all mighty occupation to bring him again from his home or from a Palestinian hospital. So, he is not detained but must stay in the Kaplan hospital just in case the faceless people would decide to detain him again.
On Friday, October 23, (as we reported in Mondoweiss before) the hospital management tried to get rid of the uninvited ghost and release itself from the role that was imposed on it as a jail keeper for a potential detainee. The security apparatus renewed the administrative detention, even though al-Akhras’ medical condition has much deteriorated since the court decided to suspend it, and declared its intention to drag him back to Ramleh prison. This intention was blocked by the court on the same day – and the status quo of limbo leading to slow death was restored.
The punishment for hunger strike is death
On October 12, during another appeal against al-Akhras’ detention, the judges suggested a “compromise”. As his detention was initially set for four months, ending on November 26, they suggested that the detention order will not be renewed after this date. They left an open door for a common Israeli cheat, as they added “if there would not be new information about the danger that he constitutes.” But they demanded that, in order not to renew the detention, al-Akhras will immediately stop his hunger strike. They actually stated, written black on white in the “high court of injustice” protocols, that al-Akhras may be punished with another administrative detention for the crime of starving himself as a protest against his detention.
Armed with more medical evidence about the imminent danger to al-Akhras’ life, lawyer Ahlam Haddad appeared again in the “high court of justice” on October 28. This time, to prevent any excuses of possible hardship to supervise or re-arrest her client, she suggested to transfer him to (the Palestinian) al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem, that is under strict Israeli occupation and, according to Israeli annexation laws, an integral part of Israel proper.
Contrary to all logic and law, the judges didn’t bring any reason why Maher al-Akhras should not be allowed to choose the hospital in which he will be treated. In the reverse – the very fact that he is putting his life in danger for his right to get out of the hospital where he was brought and held against his will is their main reason to keep him there. They write: “The petitioner’s claim that in one hospital he “chooses” to go on a hunger strike but not so in another hospital, does not justify granting his request. The petitioner did not bring any reason why the respondent should be required to transfer him to another hospital”.
The judges, or, as we can understand from their own description in the protocol, in fact the Shabak, were stubborn in their insistence that Maher al Akhras should die rather than have even the smallest symbolic achievement to show for his hunger strike.