By Aziza Nofal
Incarcerated Palestinian novelist and activist Walid Daqqa’s family and supporters are worried about his deteriorating health in prison. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer, but Israeli authorities have refused to release him.
Despite his suffering, the 61-year-old has defied Israeli prison authorities.
“In general, my son or daughter, my newborn, whom I will name Milad, may compose a tune that has not yet been composed. He or she might become an astronomer or discover a cure for cancer. Perhaps he or she will achieve what our generations have failed to do, that is, find a solution to the conflict so that there is real peace and security rather than your imaginary security,” Daqqa said during his trial after he smuggled his sperm out of prison that was used to conceive his wife Sana Salameh.
Salameh gave birth to their daughter Milad in 2020. By fathering Milad, Daqqa was able to defy Israeli jail authorities, who prevented him from meeting his wife even though Israeli laws allow the conception of children in jail.
Daqqa married Salameh in 1999 while serving a 37-year sentence for his involvement in the killing of an Israeli soldier. He was set to be released in February after completing his jail term, but his sentence was extended for two years for smuggling mobile phones.
Israel has made an example of Daqqa for his defiance by also preventing him from receiving appropriate treatment and early release due to his deteriorating health.
He was diagnosed with advanced bone marrow cancer in December 2022 and declared in urgent need of a transplant, but has not yet had a transplant.
On May 22, Daqqa was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Assaf Harofeh hospital south of Tel Aviv due to further health complications. But three days later, Israeli authorities transferred him back to the Ramleh prison’s clinic in Israel, which is notorious for its difficult conditions, despite calls by rights groups to keep him hospitalised for constant monitoring and treatment if he is not released.
His imprisonment also violates the 1993 Oslo Accords, which had a clause for the release of all Palestinian prisoners detained prior to the signing of the agreement.
Salameh, 52, expressed her fears about Daqqa’s swift return to the Ramleh prison clinic. “Israel is trying to kill Walid through medical negligence,” she told Al Jazeera.
He suffered from acute pneumonia and renal failure, after which he underwent surgery on April 12 when a large portion of his right lung was removed. He has since suffered from complications from the surgery, as well as severe respiratory suffocation and infection.
“Israel insists on returning him to the Ramleh prison clinic, and every time his lung gets infected, we fear for his life, but we are prohibited from accompanying him during his illness,” Salameh said.
The Ramleh prison clinic is the only place dedicated to the care of sick Palestinian prisoners. The two-room clinic is located in a section of a security prison built by Britain in 1934, where wounded and chronically ill Palestinian prisoners stay permanently.
It is not suitable for the medical treatment and care necessary in critical cases, with some Palestinian prisoners describing it as the “slaughterhouse” due to its high number of casualties.
Danger to his life
On May 24, an Israeli court postponed a parole committee meeting for a week that was due to consider Daqqa’s early release, despite medical reports issued by the Israeli Prison Authority acknowledging the seriousness of his condition and danger to his life. But the prosecution has so far opposed his release.
The Israeli officers inside the prison told him they would not allow him to have a child, but he won by having Milad
by Sana Salameh, wife of Walid Daqqa
“The procedures are long and slow, and we may resort to higher courts,” Salameh said.
The delay in deciding the case of Daqqa and other sick prisoners was described by Qadura Fares, the director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, the main Palestinian prisoner rights NGO, as a policy of “slow, systematic killing”.
Israel’s prolonging of the court proceedings has forced the family, as well as organisations concerned with cases of prisoners, to launch a campaign for his release under the slogan #Free_Walid_Daqqa.
While efforts by his family and supporters have highlighted the predicaments of Daqqa and other prisoners, Qadura said he does not believe that their efforts will result in his release. He referred to statements by Israel’s far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir that Walid “should finish his life in jail”.
“There are only two years left of Walid’s sentence, and yet an Israeli minister comes out and calls for an end to his life in prison. This is an explicit call from the highest levels of the Israeli government to kill him,” Qadura told Al Jazeera.
The family believes Israeli authorities are taking revenge on Daqqa for his act of defiance against the illegal Israeli occupation.
“Israel is trying to take revenge on Walid by depriving him of treatment because, throughout his last sentence, he rejected all Israeli bargains setting an example of an unprecedented state of resistance,” Salameh said, referring to Daqqa’s refusal to compromise his activist role.
Daqqa was able to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees in prison, despite restrictions imposed on him, including the banning of books. He also published novels, articles and poems narrating the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, that have reached the whole world.
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Daqqa was denied a chance to farewell his father before his death or to visit his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s,10 years ago. He was also excluded from four previous prisoner exchange deals in which his name was mentioned.
Despite the pain his family has experienced, they hope Daqqa will be able to leave prison alive to meet Milad, who now accompanies her mother to all the protests she organises for the release of her father.
Among the biggest challenges he posed to jail authorities was marrying Salameh and smuggling sperm which got her pregnant 21 years later. After discovering this, Israel imposed severe penalties on him, isolating him and preventing him from receiving visitors.
“The Israeli officers inside the prison told him they would not allow him to have a child, but he won by having Milad,” his wife told Al Jazeera.