Israel refuses to release terminally ill prisoner

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 30, 2023

Israeli authorities are refusing to release a terminally ill Palestinian prisoner who has completed his sentence of 37 years in Israeli detention.

Author and activist Walid Daqqa, 61, hails from the Palestinian city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye in Israel, where he is a citizen. He was arrested by Israeli occupation forces in March 1986 for allegedly participating in armed resistance as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political party.

Israeli authorities sentenced him to life imprisonment, with a maximum term of 37 years. As of this year, Daqqa has completed that sentence.

But in 2017, Israel extended his detention by two years on the grounds that he had smuggled phones into his cell with the assistance of a lawmaker from the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

This week a special judicial committee rejected a request for Daqqa’s release, despite his life being in “concrete danger” according to a medical expert from Israel’s own prison authorities.

The committee, headed by a retired judge, rejected his request, based on “legislation that forbids early release for prisoners convicted of terrorist acts,” according to The Times of Israel.

Right-wing campaigners in Israel are bringing the highly politicized decision to keep Daqqa in jail into the limelight, telling Israeli media that Daqqa “is a despicable terrorist who must finish his life behind bars.”

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), which includes a number of groups, sent an urgent appeal earlier this year to the UN Special Procedures – a body that handles such cases – calling for Daqqa’s release.

The council said Daqqa was “facing imminent deteriorating health conditions due to Israeli Prison Services policy of deliberate medical neglect.”

Malignant cancer stage

Daqqa’s health began deteriorating in 2020. Israeli prison authorities “deliberately denied him access” to periodic blood tests he was advised to undergo by the prison doctor, PHROC said.

In December 2022, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and further tests showed he also had a rare form of bone marrow cancer.

In January of this year, an Israeli doctor conducted a review of Daqqa’s health at the behest of the group Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

Doctor Moshe Gatt concluded that Daqqa is in the malignant stage of cancer, and without definitive treatment, he had an “average survival of about a year and a half.”

Gatt said that the medicine Daqqa was taking at prescription from a doctor he was assigned by the Israeli prison authorities was worsening the underlying cause of his cancer.

The only treatment that can cure Daqqa is a bone marrow transplant. Gatt also recommended that Daqqa be relocated to a hygienic environment to limit his exposure, “which is not possible inside the miserable conditions offered by Israeli occupation prisons.”

Despite this, Israeli prison authorities “deprived him of a timely bone marrow transplant – the only known treatment course that can save his life, despite the recommendation of every consulting physician,” PHROC said.

In February, Daqqa had a severe cardiovascular stroke with a physical injury in his chest.

Israeli prison authorities “refused to transfer him to a hospital, and the in-house prison clinic declined to provide him with a necessary blood transfusion.”

It was only some two weeks after his stroke that he was transferred to Barzilai Medical Center.

Daqqa also developed symptoms of severe pneumonia, and Israeli prison authorities refused to transfer him to hospital until pressure from his lawyers and doctors forced them to.

“It is undeniable that the [Israeli prison authorities] played a direct role, if not an exclusive role, for the life-threatening condition of Walid,” PHROC said.

The groups said Israeli prison authorities were medically negligent of Daqqa, wearing him down physically and psychologically.

Life in prison

Daqqa, who spent the majority of his life in Israeli prison, authored multiple books while incarcerated, including a children’s book on the Israeli occupation of Palestine titled The Oil’s Secret Tale. Israeli prison authorities punished him for it, placing him in solitary confinement.

In 1999, Daqqa married his wife Sana Salama from prison, and in 2020 the couple had a daughter who was conceived with sperm smuggled from prison.

In February, Israeli forces raided his wife’s home, in what human rights groups have described as “a sustained campaign of collective punishment targeting the Daqqa family to retaliate against Walid’s unfettered and powerful voice and resilience.”

Daqqa is among 23 Palestinians who have been held by Israel since before the Oslo accords were signed in the 1990s.

All Palestinians imprisoned by Israel before the Oslo accords were signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization should have been released by now, PHROC said.

Out of 5,000 Palestinian prisoners currently being held by Israeli authorities, Walid is one of 19 who have spent more than 30 years behind bars.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada