Palestinian prisoner battling cancer dies in Israeli custody

Sami Abu Diak’s death comes amid high tension as thousands of Palestinians rally against recent US settlement decision.

A demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over U.S. decision on Jewish settlements, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the Israeli-occ
A demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over US decision on settlements, near the Jewish illegal settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

A Palestinian prisoner battling cancer died in Israeli custody, officials said on Tuesday, sparking accusations of medical neglect.

The announcement of Sami Abu Diak’s death came amid heightened tension in the occupied West Bank, where protests were already planned for the later in the day.

Dubbed a “day of rage” by organisers, the demonstrations were called to denounce a recent decision by the United States to no longer consider illegal Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law.

The demonstrators were also expected to call for Abu Diak’s release, who had been imprisoned for 17 years after being arrested during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

Official Palestinian news agency Wafa said the 36-year-old suffered from terminal cancer and had been refused compassionate leave to be with his family. It carried what it said was the last message from Abu Diak, whose health reportedly deteriorated two weeks ago, saying he had wanted to spend his last days with his mother.

The Palestinian presidency held Israel responsible for his death, alleging he was “subjected to the deliberate medical negligence practised by (Israeli) occupation authorities towards all prisoners”.

In a statement, Israel’s prison authority said a seriously ill unnamed “security prisoner” died after being transferred to an Israeli hospital. It said he had been convicted for killing three people.

According to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Abu Diak had first complained of abdominal pain in 2015, which was treated with painkillers. Two weeks later, he lost consciousness and was transferred to the Israeli Soroka hospital.

He then underwent surgery to remove parts of his intestines, and was diagnosed with cancer. After that, Abu Diak underwent other surgical procedures that reportedly left him unconscious while on anaesthetics for more than a month.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Abu Diak’s family had asked for his release to allow him to die at his family’s side, but Israeli officials denied the request. The Palestinians also reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club said he was the fifth Palestinian to die in Israeli custody in 2019, and the 222nd since 1967, while the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission said tensions were high in Israeli prisons following the death.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah, said detainees’ families and former prisoners had previously called for the “day of rage” protests to also be a show of support for the more than 5,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including Abu Diak.

An Israeli soldier fires a weapon during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over U.S. decision on Jewish settlements, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 26, 2019. REUTEAn Israeli soldier fires a weapon during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over US decision on illegal Jewish settlements, in Hebron in the occupied West Bank [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

Later on Tuesday, Palestinians took to the streets across the West Bank to protest against the decision by US President Donald Trump’s administration to no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that the settlements were “inconsistent with international law”.

According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most recent in 2016, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.

The settlements are also considered a major stumbling block to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. 

More than 600,000 Israelis currently live in settlements in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. Some three million Palestinians live there.

The US move, announced on November 19, is the latest in a series of pro-Israeli decisions by the Trump administration.

In 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the US formally opened an embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In 2018, the US also announced it was cutting its contributions to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies