Palestinian administrative detainee Maher al-Akhras was finally released from Israeli custody on November 26, Thursday. Al-Akhras had earlier been on a 104-day hunger strike to protest his illegal administrative detention by Israel and to demand his release. He agreed to end his hunger strike after successfully securing an agreement for his release at the end of his current term of administration detention, which would have otherwise most likely been renewed for another term.
Since reaching the agreement, al-Akhras has been treated at the Israeli Kaplan hospital. He was transferred there from prison due to a drastic decline in his health and serious medical issues as a result of the hunger strike.
According to a statement by Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Prisoners’ Affairs Authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization, al-Akhras has now been transferred to the Al-Najah university hospital in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. He will continue to receive medical treatment and undergo health checkups until he makes a full recovery. The medical director of Al-Najah hospital, Abdul-Karim Al-Barqawi, has said that a decision on allowing him to return home will be made in the coming days following a medical assessment of his health and recovery.
Upon his release, 49-year-old al-Akhras told reporters “I secured my freedom by embarking on a long, drawn out hunger strike. The strike proved that the Palestinian people need to fight for their rights and liberty, and we can’t wait for anyone else to end our oppression. My freedom is the freedom of my people, and we have won over the occupation with our will and determination.”
Arrested on July 26 by Israeli domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, al-Akhras was accused of being a prominent member of the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group. He was then placed under administrative detention for four months without charge or trial. The Israeli authorities also withheld from his lawyers the supposed evidence they had against him based on which he was accused of terrorist activities. Al-Akhras launched his hunger strike immediately after the administrative detention order against him was passed.
Close to three months into the hunger strike, his health condition turned critical, forcing the prison authorities to transfer him to hospital. Doctors attempted to force-feed him against his will to break his hunger strike at the insistence of the prison authorities but ultimately failed. Meanwhile, his lawyers filed appeals in the Israeli high court, requesting for a nullification of his detention order and his release. The court finally ordered his release at the end of his current administrative detention order but did not approve his immediate release.
Al-Akhras lost more than 40 kg in body weight and continues to experience acute headaches and pain in his ears and joints, as well as loss of consciousness. His lawyers and human rights activists had expressed alarm that he was on the ‘verge of death’ and ‘irreversible damage’ was being inflicted on his body.
When asked about his health after his release, Al-Akhras stated that he still suffers from pain but hopes to recover soon to return to his home in the town of Silat al-Dahr, north of Jenin city, to be reunited with his wife and six children.
Repeated appeals were made to the Israeli prison authorities for al-Akhras’ release by various international human rights organizations, activists, and diplomatic representatives of several countries. Over 470 Palestinians remain in Israeli custody as administrative detainees, including two minors. Human rights groups have regularly reported that Palestinians in Israeli custody face extremely cruel treatment and are subjected to various forms of psychological and physical torture in clear violation of international humanitarian law.