Political prisoner Maher Al-Akhras, who has been on hunger strike for 86 days, is deteriorating in health by the day and his case should shine a light on the racist brutality of Israel against Palestinian prisoners.
Maher al-Akras is a 49 year old Palestinian political prisoner, a father of six and is, according to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, on the verge of death. Al-Akhras has been held in administrative detention (held without charge) since July and has currently spent 82 days on a hunger strike. Despite the fact that there is no criminal offense that Israel is holding Maher al-Akhras on the grounds of, they refuse to release him even as his health deteriorates.
If Maher dies Palestinian armed factions have vowed to respond to Israel, which could potentially ignite another escalation or even war between Gaza and Israel. With the head of the UN’s Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, stating that Gaza is enduring unprecedented levels of poverty and that people have resulted to searching through bins to eat, another war with Gaza at this point would be catastrophic.
The first thing that has to be understood about Palestinian prisoners, is that they are not conventional criminals, normal crimes committed by Palestinians are dealt with by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are there for either no reason or for acting against Israel in some form or another. Israel is an occupying power in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, therefore the laws of occupation apply to Israel, stipulating that Israel is responsible for the safety of the civilian population and those it has in its prisons.
However, Israel has failed to protect the rights of Palestinian civilians. When it comes to Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are under brutal Israeli military rule (since 1967). Israeli illegal settlers who live on top of Palestinian land, or right besides Palestinian villages and cities, are under Israeli civilian law. Israeli military law dictates, for instance, since 2015 that a Palestinian can serve up to 20 years in prison for throwing stones at Israelis, even throwing without the intent to do harm is considered a crime punishable with 10 years imprisonment, whilst Israeli settlers are protected by a standing army with they hurle stones at Palestinians.
On top of this, Israelis military courts have an almost 100% conviction rate, which has been condemned by the United Nations as a violation of international law.
According to Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’Tselem, Israeli military prisons held 4,207 Palestinian prisoners officially by the end of August of this year. Included in this statistic are 355 administrative detainees, held without any charge, and roughly 160 minors (12-17yrs old). Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, aged 12-17, are detained and prosecuted by Israel.
On Palestinian women held by Israel, according to prisoner support and human rights association ‘Addameer’, this International Women’s Day, there were “43 women held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 16 mothers, 8 injured prisoners, 12 sick prisoners and 4 administrative detainees held without charge or trial. Those female prisoners also suffered from long sentences with a maximum of 16 years. All of the Palestinian female prisoners are held in Damon Prison since November 2018.”. Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, over 10,000 Palestinian women have been held in the detention of or arrested by Israel.
Palestinians are questioned by police and ISA officers, after being arrested and are subjected to intimidation and abuse. Palestinians are often forced to sign reports written by police officers written in Hebrew, something that is illegal, as most Palestinians can’t understand what they are being forced to sign and often sign on for crimes they did not commit. Inside the jails, Israel use of intimidation, beatings, psychological torture and even physical torture have been well documented.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic Israel has also been accused of not fulfilling its obligations to keep prisoners safe and has actively continued its arrest campaigns despite the spread of the virus.
Maher al-Akhras is one of those Palestinians unjustly taken away from his loving family and is being held for absolutely no reason and yet the world remains silent to the evident crime being committed against him. If he dies on his hunger strike, the burden will be on Israel and the sad part of this all is that the case of Maher is not even the worst.