Israel to deny early release of terminally ill Palestinian prisoner

Fayha Shalash

Middle East Monitor  /  May 24, 2023

Walid Daqqa, in prison since 1986, suffers from rare type of cancer and has been repeatedly denied requests for parole.

Israel‘s public prosecution announced that it would oppose the early release of long-term Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa on the grounds that he suffers from terminal cancer.

Daqqa, who has been detained since 1986, was diagnosed with a rare type of bone marrow cancer several months ago and has been in and out of hospitals due to successive health setbacks.

Israel’s Prison Service’s (IPS) medical administration said after diagnosing him that “his days are numbered and there is an immediate risk to his life”.

Sana Salama, Daqqa’s wife, told Middle East Eye that the 60-year-old prisoner is currently in intensive care receiving intensive antibiotics to treat a new lung infection.

“We hope that his condition will not deteriorate and he won’t be placed on ventilators, as happened after his last surgery,” Salama said.

Like other Palestinian prisoners, Daqqa, who was previously diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, has suffered from medical negligence during his 37 years in prison, which has worsened his health.

According to Salama, Daqqa underwent a lung resection operation due to severe pneumonia and was hospitalised for over a month at the Barzilai Hospital in Israel.

“He also suffers from severe kidney failure and low blood pressure. After the surgery, he was unable to speak, but he’s been unable to move or walk unassisted,” she said. 

Daqqa’s deteriorating health since the surgery has put a strain on his family, prompting them to submit a request to the Israeli court for early parole.

However, according to Israeli media, the state prosecutor intends to reject the request.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote on social media that he has instructed the IPS to examine how the request was admitted to the “ordinary parole committee” instead of the “parole committee for security prisoners”. 

Ben-Gvir also said Daqqa “should end his life in prison”.

But Salama said: “I am optimistic that Walid will come out soon and be with us, even if the request for early release is rejected, I won’t hesitate to knock on any legal door until he is released.”

“Walid deserves freedom and life outside the hateful prison.”

A thinker

Daqqa was due to be released from prison this year after completing his life sentence.

However, in 2018, an Israeli court sentenced him to two additional years on charges of smuggling cellphones inside the prison. His release date is now set to be in 2025.

Israel has repeatedly rejected the inclusion of Daqqa in the many prisoners swap deals that have taken place since his detention.

Dozens of petitions to Israeli courts requesting the reduction of his sentence and an early release have been rejected over the years.

Amani Sarahneh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Club, said that based on prisoners’ past experiences, especially among patients who have asked for early release, the Israeli judiciary cannot be relied upon. 

“Over the past years, there hasn’t been any positive decision in favor of prisoners who suffer from difficult or severe illnesses, but in Walid Daqqa’s case, we are making new attempts and breaking through some of what is stipulated in Israeli law, and we hope that there will be a result,” she told MEE.

Sarahneh believes that many political factors control the decisions of the courts, especially since the members of the far-right Israeli government have incited against Daqqa. 

“There are major shifts in all issues related to prisoners because Israel uses them as a tool to win the Israeli public opinion,” she said.

Still, his family says they have hope he will be released before it’s too late.

In 1991, Daqqa, who hails from Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a Palestinian town in Israel, married Salama while in prison, before he was handed a 37-year sentence.

In 2020, when the IPS refused to allow the couple to meet, Daqqa managed to smuggle sperm out from prison, allowing them to have their first child, Milad.

“Milad filled a huge void – a void in my soul left by prison and the complexities of meeting Walid, the chains, and the voice of the jailer. Milad came to assure us that life is possible, and that beautiful things never end,” Salama said.

In the course of his imprisonment, Daqqa has written books and studies on various subjects, and cultivated a reputation of being a thinker.

Fayha Shalash is a Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank


Israel postpones parole session for writer Walid Daqqa

Zena al-Tahhan

Al-Jazeera  /  May 24, 2023

Novelist and political activist Daqqa was transferred to hospital on Monday following further health complications.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – An Israeli court has postponed a parole committee to review the possibility of an early release for terminally ill Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa, 61, who was transferred to hospital several days ago.

“Despite his extremely difficult health condition … the court session to review conditional early release for the purpose of treatment has been postponed to May 31,” his family said in a statement on Wednesday.

Daqqa, who suffers from an advanced stage of bone marrow cancer, was transferred on Monday to the intensive care unit at the Assaf Harofeh hospital south of Tel Aviv due to further health complications.

Dozens of Palestinians took to the streets on Tuesday evening in Ramallah in the central Israeli-occupied West Bank to demand Daqqa’s immediate release.

Daqqa hails from the Palestinian town of Baqa al-Gharbiya inside Israel and is one of the most prominent thinkers and writers of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement. He holds a master’s degree in political science and has written several books while in prison, including a children’s one.

He was imprisoned by Israel in 1986 for being involved in the killing of an Israeli soldier and was sentenced to 37 years in prison, which he completed in March 2023 but Israeli authorities had extended his sentence by two years in 2017 over charges of smuggling cell phones into prison.

“Walid Daqqa may lose his life at any moment. His health is in grave danger. He cannot walk or cannot talk properly. He also cannot breathe normally – he is on a respirator,” Ihtiram Ghazawneh from the Addameer Palestinian prisoners’ rights group told Al-Jazeera.

“He completed his 37-year sentence. He is not someone who is on a security file any more. He must be able to continue treatment outside of prison, among his family, because even if he is released, it is not clear how long he will live,” Ghazawneh continued, adding they “have been meeting with diplomats to pressure their governments for his release”.

Daqqa underwent surgery on April 12 in which a large portion of his right lung was removed. He was placed in the Ramle prison clinic – notorious for its bad conditions – on May 7, and provided only with antibiotics and a series of physical therapy sessions, according to prisoners’ groups (PDF).

“Walid needs to be in a hospital, under constant monitoring and treatment. Not in the Ramle prison clinic which is not suitable for any sick person, let alone someone with such a dangerous health situation like Walid,” said Ghazawneh.

On Monday, his family said in a statement their only demand remains Daqqa’s “immediate release … so that he can receive treatment without restrictions”, adding that “prison authorities hold full responsibility for his life considering the lack of a suitable treatment for the rare cancer he suffers from”.

Late on Tuesday night, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said in a tweet Daqqa “should end his life in prison”.

Palestinian Authority officials said such an “inflammatory statement” is “considered an official licence to kill him”.

‘Undeniable role’

Daqqa began complaining of health problems as early as 2015, according to Addameer. Three years later, doctors recommended that he receive periodic blood tests, which prison authorities refused. Only in December 2022 was he admitted to hospital following a sudden deterioration in his health, where he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and declared in urgent need of a transplant.

He has not been afforded the transplant surgery until today.

In January 2023, a doctor who evaluated Daqqa’s medical condition said that without definitive treatment, he has an “average survival of about a year and a half”.

In mid-February, Daqqa suffered a severe stroke. Despite requiring emergency treatment, he was only transferred to a hospital 11 days later. During that time, he lost at least 10 kilograms in a month and a half, and a significant amount of blood.

In March 2023, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) submitted an urgent appeal to the United Nations calling for Daqqa’s immediate release.

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

“The IPS has 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,” it pointed out.

“Crucially, the instrumentalization of medical negligence as a tool to denigrate, demoralize, and punish Palestinian prisoners is emblematic of Israel’s illegal and inhumane prison system.”

In 1999, Daqqa got married while behind bars. He and his wife, Sana Salameh, welcomed their daughter Milad in 2020, conceived after his sperm was smuggled out of prison.

He is one of 23 prisoners who are being held in Israeli prisons in violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which stipulated that all Palestinian prisoners detained prior to the signing of the agreement would be released.

In recent months, Palestinians and supporters have taken to social media to demand Daqqa be released under the hashtag #Free_Walid_Daqqa.

Palestinian officials and rights groups have long documented and condemned a “deliberate Israeli policy of medical negligence”.

Israeli prison authorities regularly delay checkups and urgent surgeries for Palestinian prisoners for years, according to prisoner groups.

Specialized doctors are not regularly available, except for dentists, and “over-the-counter painkillers are administered as a remedy for almost all health problems”, rights groups said in a joint report to the United Nations.

‘Losing prisoners every year’

On May 2, Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan died while in Israeli custody on the 87th day of a hunger strike against his repeated arbitrary arrests, causing widespread anger and prompting armed resistance groups in the besieged Gaza Strip to fire rockets at Israel.

In December 2022, Palestinian prisoner Nasser Abu Hmaid also died in Israeli custody despite longstanding calls to release him and claims of Israeli medical negligence following his late diagnosis of cancer a year prior.

In 2020, four Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody.

“If Walid Daqqa is not released, he must be placed in a suitable treatment environment,” said Ghazawneh. “The Ramle prison clinic is the same place where Khader Adnan was martyred. We don’t want to keep losing our prisoners as a result of the manner in which the occupation behaves.”

Speaking to Al-Jazeera at the protest in Ramallah, former prisoner and hunger striker Mohammad al-Qiq said the international community must “at least send a committee to review Israel’s actions towards our prisoners, which violate all international laws”.

“Every year we are losing prisoners due to medical negligence, oppressive policies and international silence in the face of these crimes,” the 41-year-old said.

Zena al-Tahhan is Al-Jazeera English’s digital correspondent in Jerusalem