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Maher al-Akhras in the Hospital. Photo by Oren Ziv (Local call)
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Israel to High Court: Dying Palestinian Still a Security Risk

Maher al-Akhras. Photo courtesy of family

Maher al-Akhras, a 49-year-old father of six from the Palestinian village of Silat a-Dhahr in the West Bank, has been on hunger strike for nearly 80 days to protest his administrative detention in Israel since early August 2020, which is due to end on 26 November 2020. The strike has left al-Akhras is on the verge of death.

Despite his dire condition, Israel is insisting on keeping al-Akhras in custody. At a High Court of Justice hearing today, the state representative only agreed to pledge not to extend the administrative detention order. Justices Sohlberg, Mazuz and Willner directed al-Akhras’ lawyer, Ahlam Hadad, to convey him the state’s offer. Al-Akhras rejected the offer and announced he would end the hunger strike only upon release.

Al-Akhras is protesting Israel’s use of administrative detention – one of the most extreme measures employed by the occupation regime. Administrative detainees do not know when they will be released, as the regional military commander can extend the detention order indefinitely based on classified evidence that the detainees are given no chance to disprove. Over the years, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for periods ranging from a few months to several years. At certain points during the second intifada, Israel had more than 1,000 Palestinians in administrative detention at one time. In late August 2020, Israel was holding 355 Palestinians in administrative detention, including two minors.

This morning’s hearing was not the first in the case, as al-Akhras had already petitioned the High Court when his condition deteriorated. On 23 September 2020 — after an ex-parte hearing and a review of the classified material — Justices Amit and Grosskopf ruled (with Justice Mintz dissenting) that they were “satisfied” the administrative detention was fully justified. They added, however, that due to his condition, al-Akhras no longer poses a threat and therefore the “preventive purpose” of the detention has ceased to exist. Yet instead of releasing him, the justices relied on the court’s magic solution for such cases: “suspension” of the detention order so it is not currently active.

“Suspending” an administrative detention order is not a legislated procedure but rather an interpretive solution invented by the High Court to avoid reaching a decision on – and taking responsibility for – administrative detainees on the verge of death from a hunger strike whom the state refuses to release. The meaning of this procedure is unclear, as demonstrated by Justice Mazuz’s confusion regarding the implications of this previous ruling in a hearing this morning.

Although administrative detention orders are formally subject to judicial review, the court rarely revokes them, instead approving them as is. Refusing to revoke an order even when the detainee is on the brink of death, and relying instead on an ambiguous legal solution, is extreme even in the harsh reality of the occupation.

This is not the first time a Palestinian on hunger strike against administrative detention has reached death’s door, while the state refuses to release him and the High Court cooperates with this appalling conduct. In previous cases, the hunger strikers accepted the state’s offer and Israel continued unimpeded, with High Court backing, to implement the protested practices and procedures. Al-Akhras’ choice to remain on hunger strike until his release does not allow the state and the court to continue avoiding a decision. The responsibility for what happens next lies with those who can prevent his further deterioration and even death. They can still stop this from happening.