Mondoweiss / June 4, 2023
Walid Daqqah’s health continues to deteriorate inside Ramleh prison’s death chambers. Yet “despite all the roughness and challenges of prison, Walid keeps saying, ‘I am still kind and loving'” says his brother, As’ad Daqqah.
Just outside of Ramleh prison, family members and supporters of Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqah gathered to call for his release from Israeli prison during an early parole hearing on May 31.
At the same time, Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets and rallied for Daqqah’s immediate release in light of his quickly deteriorating health and the fact that he has already completed his original 37-year prison sentence. In 2018, Israel punitively added two years to Daqqah’s sentence on charges of smuggling cellphones into prison, during which time the 61-year-old was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare type of bone marrow cancer.
Despite his deteriorating health and appeals from healthcare professionals, independent rights groups, and legal experts, the early parole committee of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) refused Daqqah’s appeal for early release. The court’s decision to reject the appeal of the severely ill novelist, writer, and intellectual came after Israeli authorities had postponed Daqqah’s original hearing on May 24, during which time Daqqah was hospitalized due to health complications.
“I want to see him,” As’ad Daqqah, Walid’s younger brother, told Mondoweiss. “I will not accept Walid as a martyr. I want Walid to be victorious.”
During the hearing, supporters and family members who stood outside Ramleh prison were attacked by settler groups, who chanted “death to Walid Daqqah.”
According to statements released by the family and legal team, the court decision amounted to “a decision to execute Daqqah through protracting his release.” Even the IPS explicitly recognized the dangerous deterioration in Daqqah’s health.
During the hearing, supporters and family members who stood outside Ramleh prison were attacked by settler groups, who chanted “death to Walid Daqqah” as an Israeli police escort provided the settlers with protection.
“We chant for freedom and life, and for a life of dignity for the coming generations,” As’ad explained to Mondoweiss. “Yet they are constantly chanting for death.”
Daqqah is from the Palestinian village of Baqqa al-Gharbiyyeh, located in the “Triangle” area, a part of the lands that fell under the occupation of the nascent Israeli state in 1948. Daqqah has been imprisoned by Israel since March 25, 1986, when he was only 25 years old. He was accused of belonging to a “terrorist” cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) that was responsible for killing Moshe Tamam, an Israeli soldier on active duty in 1984.
Daqqah was sentenced to 37 years, which he completed in March this year.
“I don’t just want Walid released,” As’ad told Mondoweiss. “I want him treated. And I want my brother to be released so we can give him that treatment. Do you understand?” As’ad explained. “We want Walid out of prison while he’s still breathing.”
This means that the majority of Daqqah’s life has been spent behind prison walls. Appeals from health experts, legal experts, and human rights organizations continue to be ignored by Israeli authorities and the IPS, despite the imminent threat to Daqqah’s life. Even the editorial board of Haaretz called for Daqqah’s release, to no avail.
‘I am still kind and loving’: an imprisoned intellectual
Daqqah has become a prominent Palestinian intellectual, political analyst, and novelist over the past decade. His writings have helped transform our understanding of the experience of political detainees in Israeli prisons. He has provided a unique intellectual framework that uses the study of the community of Palestinian prisoners as a representation of broad political and societal trends within Palestinian society beyond the prison’s walls. He has also provided Palestinians and the world with a unique view into the meaning of being swallowed up by the Israeli carceral regime, which in his 2012 study, Dissolving Consciousness: or, Redefining Torture, he describes as
“…experiencing torment and oppression without being able to describe it or to determine its source. It is the feeling of powerlessness and the loss of human dignity when uncertainty meets repression, and it seems that not only has the world abandoned you, but your language has betrayed you as you are unable to describe or define your torment…in those circumstances, you end up simplifying the complexity of your torture for the purposes of being media-friendly, which renders it as a kind of mild torture, undeserving of attention…and at other times you are forced to exaggerate and inflate, making it easier for your jailer to refute your false claims.”
These words made up the crux of Daqqah’s analysis not only of prison life but of Palestinian life outside the prison walls and the daily reality of living under colonial domination. In doing so, Daqqa reached beyond his prison cell and taught Palestinians how to view themselves and the system of power that attempts to subjugate them. His writings made their mark in the Palestinian cultural sphere, as Palestinians began to adapt his work into different mediums, and it was met with institutional Israeli backlash.
“This play created lots of noise because it was performed in Haifa and it was performed at a cultural center that was funded by the Israeli Ministry of Culture,” As’ad Daqqah told Mondoweiss. “At the time, Regev had said, how can we fund ‘Mekhablim’ like Walid Daqqah [Hebrew for “vandal,” a common Israeli slur for Palestinians who resist colonial rule]. These are how they see us: as vandals.”
“As I’ve closely followed Walid’s writings and had discussions with him throughout his 37 years of imprisonment, I have always felt that he was never imprisoned mentally,” As’ad told Mondoweiss. “Only [Walid’s] body was imprisoned, and even this, he tried to rupture,” As’ad noted.
“Despite all the roughness and challenges of prison, Walid keeps saying ‘I am still kind and loving,’” As’ad said, relaying his brother’s words to Mondoweiss.
The death chambers of Ramleh prison’s medical facility
On Monday, May 22, Walid was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Assaf Harofeh Hospital south of Tel Aviv due to further complications with his health. However, despite the dangerous risk it poses to his life, Daqqah was transferred back to the medical clinic in Ramleh prison immediately after his surgeries.
Ramleh prison clinic (known as Nitzan Prison in Hebrew) was where the Palestinian hunger-striker, activist, and father of nine, Khader Adnan, 41, was found dead on May 2 this year, following his 86-day hunger strike protesting his imprisonment. Adnan’s legal team and health experts described Adnan’s death as “willful and deliberate.”
Although the specificities of their cases differ, Adnan was also denied proper medical attention, despite continued appeals to release or send him to a proper hospital. With the knowledge that the Ramleh medical clinic lacked the most basic and necessary medical equipment, Adnan was left shackled and unattended as his physical health continued to deteriorate.
“Imagine: a state and its institutions are handling such issues with a tribal mentality of retaliation and revenge.”
As’ad Daqqah, brother of Walid Daqqah, on the approach of the IPS to Walid’s case.
There have been countless other examples of systematic medical negligence leading to the death of Palestinian prisoners. Last December, 50-year-old refugee and political detainee Nasser Abu-Humeid died in Israeli prisons due to intentional medical negligence. Like Daqqah, Humeid was also struggling with cancer. In November 2021, Sami Al-Amour, 39, also died in Israeli prisons while suffering from congenital heart disease.
“You must understand who we are facing,” As’ad explained to Mondoweiss. “This is an occupation that is criminal and understands the mentality of revenge. This mentality of vengeance is how they operate. Imagine: a state and its institutions are handling such issues with a tribal mentality of retaliation and revenge.”
Walid Daqqah’s family and supporters have launched a campaign calling for his release, despite the Israeli efforts against it. Although popular mobilization did not prove fast enough to save the life of Khader Adnan, Palestinians are determined not to let Walid Daqqah suffer the same fate, seeking to set a new precedent for protecting Palestinian life, specifically Palestinian detainees with terminal illnesses.
Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss