Israel postpones parole session for writer Walid Daqqa

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

ramallah protests Walid Daqqa May 2023
Dozens of Palestinians took to the streets on Tuesday to demand Israel release terminally ill Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa [Al Jazeera]

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.

ramallah protests Walid Daqqa May 2023
Walid Daqqa was sentenced to 37 years in prison in 1986, which he completed in 2023 [Al Jazeera]

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.

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Palestinians hold up posters of Walid Daqqa and another ill prisoner Asef al-Rifai who also suffers from cancer [Al Jazeera]

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 kilogrammes 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.

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.

‘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.

Mohammad Qiq - ramallah protests Walid Daqqa May 2023
Former prisoner Mohammad al-Qiq said the international community must act to save Daqqa [Al Jazeera]

“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.

Source: Al Jazeera