Palestinian prisoner diagnosed with cancer dies in Israel custody

Palestinian officials and rights groups had long called for Nasser Abu Hmaid’s release after his diagnosis with a late stage of cancer.

Palestinian prisoner
Palestinians during a demonstration last year demanding the release of Nasser Abu Hmaid, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank [File: Abbas Momani/AFP]

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – A Palestinian prisoner has died in Israeli custody despite longstanding calls to release him and claims of Israeli medical negligence following his late diagnosis with cancer more than a year ago.

Palestinian authorities said that 50-year-old Nasser Abu Hmaid died on Tuesday morning at the Assaf Harofeh Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv.

He was transferred in a sudden manner on Monday afternoon from the Ramla prison clinic to the hospital after his health seriously deteriorated and he slipped into a coma.

A general strike started on Tuesday morning with stores, schools and businesses shut across the occupied West Bank to mourn Abu Hmaid’s death, including Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Jenin.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that Abu Hmaid was “martyred as a result of the policy of deliberate medical negligence” and held the Israeli occupation responsible.

Abu Hmaid was diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer in August 2021 after Israeli authorities delayed the provision of medical examinations and treatment, according to Palestinian prisoner rights groups.

His family, prisoner groups and officials had since then launched a campaign calling on Israel to release him and warned that he was being exposed to “a slow death” through medical negligence. The family repeatedly said they wanted their son to die by their side.

Back in September, following months of chemotherapy, the Assaf Harofeh hospital said in a medical report there was nothing more it could do to save his life.

The hospital recommended that Abu Hmaid be released immediately and said he was “in his last days.” He was however sent back to the Ramla prison clinic and remained jailed.

His body has not yet been released to Palestinian officials, who said they are following up on his file at the highest levels, so a funeral procession could be held.

In a statement on Monday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) said Israeli authorities “did not consider our requests for the release of the prisoner because of his difficult health condition”.

Dozens of Palestinians participated in a protest organized by political parties on Tuesday morning in the besieged Gaza Strip, against Abu Hmaid’s death and Israeli medical negligence.

Protestors chanted slogans calling for the liberation of ill Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Senior leader of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad movement, Khaled al-Batch said the Israeli occupation is “fully responsible for the assassination of Abu Hmaid” at the protest.

“The continuous policy of medical negligence is a form of slow killing practiced against our prisoners. This will not pass without a price or punishment,” he warned.

The Palestinian Authority and the International Committee of the Red Cross had organised an urgent visit for his mother to the hospital on Monday evening, but he was in a coma.

Abu Hmaid was a former leader of the Fatah political party’s armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. He hailed from a family of refugees living in the al-Amari camp in Ramallah in the central Israeli-occupied West Bank.

He had been imprisoned since 2002 and was sentenced to life over his role in attacks carried out during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

‘Deliberate’ neglect

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.

Specialised 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.

In 2020, four Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody.

In November 2021, Palestinian prisoner Sami Umour, 39, died following a months-long delay of an urgently needed surgery for the serious heart problems he was suffering from.

Since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, more than 70 Palestinian prisoners have died from medical negligence in Israeli prisons, according to the PPS.

Most Palestinians view detainees in Israeli prisons as political prisoners who are in detention because of the Israeli military occupation or their resistance to it.

There are now approximately 4,760 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. This includes at least 500 who are ill with different diseases, as well as more than 20 who suffer from cancer.

Meanwhile, about 820 prisoners are held under “administrative detention”, a controversial policy that allows Israel to hold detainees without charge or trial.

Additional reporting by Maram Humaid in Gaza. 

Source: Al Jazeera