Palestinian Hunger Striker Agrees To End Protest

Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian man who has been on hunger strike since his arrest by Israeli forces in July 2020, has agreed to end his protest after receiving assurances from Israeli authorities that his detention would not be extended, The Guardian reports. Al-Akhras, who refused to eat for 103 days in protest against his arrest and the “administrative detention” order issued by Israeli authorities, has brought an end to his hunger strike after receiving “a firm commitment” from Israel that his detention will end on November 26th, according to Reuters. It remains to be seen as to whether or not al-Akhras will survive his ordeal. Over the past weeks his medical condition has continued to deteriorate rapidly, his wife, Taghrid, telling The Associated Press that he now weighs 61 kilograms, having weighed 104 kilograms in July.

News came on Friday, November 6th, when Taghrid told The Associated Press that her husband had “ended his strike” and was “undergoing a medical check-up to begin eating.” The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Ramallah-based NGO that advocates for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, also released a statement revealing that al-Akhras had received a guarantee from Israel that his “administrative detention” would not be renewed, Reuters reported. However, Israel has been less forthcoming with a clear statement on any agreements made, with the country’s Shin Bet security agency not elaborating on their claim that al-Akhras’ detention order was already scheduled to end on November 26th.

Speaking to CNN, al-Akhras said he had achieved “a victory for all the Palestinian people.” Indeed, the protest has brought about his freedom, and helped to highlight the injustices of “administrative detention,” a policy in which Israeli authorities are able to detain individuals indefinitely without clear evidence or a trial. That being said, it is not yet clear if al-Akhras’ hunger strike will lead to tangible changes in Israeli policy. According to the advocacy group Fares, Israel still holds 4,200 Palestinian prisoners, and the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, suggests there are currently 355 Palestinians, two of which are minors, still held in “administrative detention.”

Al-Akhras’ hunger strike has gained worldwide attention and brought the policy of “administrative detention” into greater global scrutiny. According to CNN, both the United Nation’s Middle East envoy and the European Union (E.U.) have released statements in the past month raising concerns about Israel’s seemingly gung ho approach to detaining Palestinian suspects without due process. It is hoped that the end of al-Akhras’ protest will not ease the pressure on the Israeli state or their use of a policy with questionable legal and ethical underpinnings. Israeli officials are not, however, showing signs of softening their approach when it comes to Palestine. The day before al-Akhras finished his hunger strike, Israeli forces razed a Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley, leaving 73 people homeless, according to the Guardian.

Although shocking, al-Akhras’ hunger strike can be seen as a victory for non-combative resistance against unjust actions from state actors. It can also be seen as a small victory for Palestinians in the face of generations of oppression from the State of Israel. If al-Akhras survives the ordeal, it seems likely he will have won his own freedom. However, the extent to which the protest will bring about meaningful change in the policies of Israeli forces against the Palestinian people remains unclear. International governments and organizations must continue to place diplomatic pressure on Israel so that unlawful detention is brought to an end. If not, the great physical harm al-Akhras has inflicted on himself, may be in vain.

Jake Tacchi