Palestinian Hunger Striker ‘On The Verge Of Death’

A Palestinian man, who has been on hunger strike for over 80 days, is “on the verge of death” according to Israel-based human rights group B’Tselem. The 49-year-old father of six, Maher Al-Akhras, began the strike to protest his arrest and “administrative detention” by Israeli forces in July. Israel has accused Al-Akhras of belonging to the Islamic Jihad armed group, a claim he denies, and rejected an emergency petition calling for his release from custody on Monday 12 October. Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups are now voicing increasing concerns over Al-Akhras’s rapidly worsening condition and have called on international human rights groups to intervene in the case.

Hospitalised in the Israeli Kaplan Medical Centre in Rehevot since September and only accepting water, Al-Akhras’s health is deteriorating quickly, with his wife, Taghreed, telling Reuters that he is “too weak to speak.” On Wednesday 14 October, Palestinian Minister of Health, Mai Al-Kaili, also reported that Al-Akhras now “has severe pain, suffers from frequent fainting, has difficulty speaking, and has lost more than 25 kilograms.” Al-Akhras began his hunger strike following his arrest near Nabulus earlier this year which saw him placed under administrative detention, a highly contentious practice which “violates the right to due process” and results in individuals being held “for lengthy periods without being charged, tried or convicted,” according to Al Jazeera.

Al-Akhras’s protest highlights the ongoing injustices perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people, and the willingness to utilize draconian, unlawful and violent measures, harming the rights and security of individuals. Although Israel counters that the policy of administrative detention is necessary to protect the identities of undercover operatives, Dr Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Israeli parliament, speaking to The Independent, has called the practice “anti-democratic.” Undoubtedly a system of indefinite detention without charge is deeply problematic, and one, which not only gravely violates human rights, but also starkly calls into question the nature of the Israeli regime. International governments and organisations must join Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups in condemning this practice, and put pressure on Israel to afford Al-Akhras a fair trial.

Al-Akhras’s case is not unique. B’Tselem have reported that around 355 Palestinians, including two minors, are currently held under administrative detention orders. It is likely that the actions of Israeli officials in the next few days will be decisive. If they choose to bow to growing pressure to release Al-Akhras, a man’s life can be saved. However, it seems unlikely that Israel will deviate from their tough line. Increasing calls from human rights groups, and a rally in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday 12 October, have done little to change their position.

Given Al-Akhras’s current condition, action must be taken swiftly. His lawyer, Ahlam Haddad, speaking to The Independent, has warned of the “irreversible damage” already sustained and the fact he is “in danger of sudden death that could come at any moment.” There must be greater international pressure levied on Israel to afford Al-Akhras a fair trial, and to end his detainment without trial. If not, Al-Akhras’s death seems a certainty.

Jake Tacchi