Middle east Monitor / October 17, 2020
Palestinian political prisoner Maher al-Akhras has been on hunger strike for 83 days now.
A father of six children, Al-Akhras was arrested by Israel in July and has been held for months without charge or trial.
This is a practice Israel calls “administrative detention”, that relies on a law that is a relic of the British colonial occupation of Palestine.
Not only are Palestinians interned in this manner not shown any of the supposed “evidence” against them, but these nightmarish orders can be renewed without limit.
And this is the state that still sometimes claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East”. What a cruel joke.
Severely ill and at risk of imminent death, Al-Akhras has insisted on his immediate release. “My only conditions are freedom or death,” he said in a recent video from his hospital bed.
Al-Akhras was driven to such desperate measures by the cruelty of Israel’s occupation forces, who have repeatedly arrested and re-arrested him. He has spent a total of five years in Israeli jails.
The images of Al-Akhras on his hospital bed, clearly in severe pain, are extremely distressing.
One of the Palestinian activists in the West Bank demonstrating solidarity with Al-Akhras, calling for his unconditional release, is Khader Adnan, a veteran prisoner. Adnan, too, has had to resort to multiple long-term hunger strikes since 2012, to resist Israeli “administrative detention” many times.
As well as being a relic of the injustice of the British Empire, “administrative detention” is a racist, apartheid law. The military law is almost exclusively reserved for Palestinians, even including some Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The presence of Adnan was another reminder of the long-term nature of the Palestinian struggle and its seemingly indomitable spirit of resistance.
Palestinians have been resisting Zionism’s settler-colonial project since it first begun invading their homeland at the end of the 19th century. The masses of Palestinian people themselves have never shown any signs of giving in or acquiescing to Israel’s racist project for their erasure as a people.
That spirit of selfless sacrifice displayed by Al-Akhras, combined with a will to carry on the struggle, no matter how hopeless the odds may be, is the signature quality of Palestinian resistance. It also reoccurs time and again all over the world, in the struggle of oppressed masses and indigenous peoples for their liberation.
It displayed itself also in Bassel al-Araj, a martyr of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
A pharmacist by trade, Al-Araj was a youth activist and a popular intellectual. He was assassinated by an Israeli army death squad in 2017. This gang of cowards invaded his home and shot him 21 times. Al-Araj refused to surrender and died resisting them.
More than three years later, he is now said to be one of the most recognisable resistance icons in Palestine.
As Budour Hassan (who met Al-Araj many times) explained soon after his death in 2017: “Resistance was his choice. He wasn’t driven to this path by depression, economic anxiety or lack of opportunities, but rather by an unwavering commitment to the Palestinian struggle for full, unconditional liberation.”
He believed that he should be directly engaged in his peoples’ struggles, and not only talk about them. He fiercely opposed the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s collaboration with the Israeli occupation, describing them as the expression of: “A comprador class directly benefiting from the existence of the occupation.”
In one of his articles, he compared the PA to the Harkis during the French occupation of Algeria – native Algerians recruited into the French army in its war against the National Liberation Front (FLN)’s liberation struggle to free their country from European settler-colonial domination.
But Al-Araj was also opposed to the shedding of blood among Palestinians, and according to Hassan: “Bassel never insulted the PA police and security officers who beat him. He acknowledged that there was a significant class dimension in the way the PA recruits the poorest and most downtrodden men in Palestinian society to crush protests. Bassel believed that activists should try to win those men over and not treat them as enemies.”
For his dissent, he was arrested and tortured by the PA (who only released him after he and some of his comrades went on hunger strike). In fact, it was the PA’s arrest of him – no doubt on the Israelis’ orders – that precipitated his assassination by the Israeli army soon after his release.
The spirit of Palestinian resistance will live on.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East