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Walid Daqqah: One family’s fight to be reunited before time runs out

Amid a mediatized push to release the terminally ill prisoner, his family implore the public, officials and media to not spread misinformation about Daqqah’s health condition – and have taken matters into their own hands in order to “spread only the truth”.

UPDATE, 12.00 PM Wednesday 31 May: The Israeli governmental parole board has refused to rule on releasing Walid Daqqah under parole, transferring his case to the authority of another board which considers cases involving life-sentence prisoners (even though Daqqah is no longer a life-sentence prisoner). His family have issued a statement saying they were assaulted and threatened (including Sanaa and Milad) as they tried to reach the court.

Jerusalem24 – In the photographs, three-year-old Milad stands side-by-side with her mother in every demonstration they attend calling for her father’s release. Sanaa Daqqah is quick to point out however that despite her daughter’s “seamless and fascinating” way of engaging in her family’s struggle, the first priority for her remains school, stability, and daily life.

Milad was born in 2020 to Sanaa and Walid Daqqah, conceived with sperm smuggled out of prison where Walid has been sitting for 37 years. Sanaa and Walid were married in 1999, even as he was completing the first third of his sentence.

61-year-old Walid Daqqah, a writer and activist from the Palestinian town of Baqa Al-Gharbiyeh in Israel, was sentenced by Israel to life in prison in 1986 on charges of being involved in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. His sentence was later reduced to 37 years, due to finish in early 2023.

However, in 2017, Israel sentenced him to an additional two years for smuggling phones into prison – a “ridiculous charge”, Sanaa tells 24FM, Jerusalem24’s sister station.

“The prisoners usually get disciplined for this type of offense with a maximum of two days in solitary,” she says. “But because he is Walid, and because he has a legacy of struggle and a strong influence on the prisoners, Israel is trying to assassinate him, slowly and deliberately.”

Medical negligence

Following seven years of complaints about his health during which he was denied the recommended blood tests, Daqqah was eventually diagnosed in December 2022 with myelofibrosis, a rare form of bone marrow cancer requiring immediate and specialized treatment.

In February, Daqqah suffered a blood-clot-induced stroke but was only transferred to a medical center 11 days later. He has also been sporadically transferred to Ramla Prison Clinic (known to Palestinian detainees as “the slaughterhouse”) rather than a civilian hospital with the appropriate medical equipment and staff.

In light of his health condition, a hearing considering medical opinions from Israel’s prison doctors as well as one independent medical center advising for Daqqah’s release on parole is scheduled for Wednesday 31 May, after it was postponed from 24 May.

Israel’s state prosecution announced ahead of last week’s postponed hearing that it would oppose granting him parole on the grounds that Daqqah’s health is not “at immediate risk” since his prognosis gives him two years to live.

Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted on 23 May that Daqqah “should end his life in prison”.

61-year-old Walid Daqqah, December 2022. [Source: Media]

“Only the truth”

While Daqqah is a a renowned writer, a beloved figure among Palestinian political prisoners, and numerous organizations have advocated for him in Israel and internationally, his family have had to content with a complication arising from this fame, in the form of misinformation surrounding Walid’s health condition and legal situation.

Last week, Al-Arabiya “mistakenly” announced Daqqah’s impending release in a now-deleted news item.

Fearing a negative impact on their tireless campaigning, the Daqqah family have taken the rare step of issuing a public statement calling for an end to disinformation surrounding his case as well as accountability for those responsible.

“You cannot provide incorrect information, and whoever does so should be held accountable,” Sanaa says. “It might not be intentional, but it’s part of a culture of spreading misleading and false information.”

The family set up a Facebook page on 28 March, where they can vet all the information shared and communications are only issued via the official campaign for Walid’s release.

“Campaigns like Walid’s are supposed to be handled professionally and with accuracy,” Sanaa says. “We don’t want to earn anyone’s sympathy, or spread embellished and exaggerated information. We only want to spread the truth.”

“Running out of time”

Sanaa describes her husband’s health condition as “very precarious”, and stresses that unless he starts receiving the appropriate form of treatment soon, they will “not be able to do anything for him even if he is freed.”

Israel operates a policy of deliberate medical negligence against Palestinian detainees, according to organizations such as Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association or Physicians for Human Rights—Israel.

Over 230 Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli prisons since 1967. 44-year-old political prisoner Khader Adnan died in Israeli custody on 2 May after an 86-day hunger strike. Adnan, who refused treatment while he was fasting, had requested to be resuscitated and administered life-saving treatment in the event he lost consciousness. 50-year-old Fatah leader Nasser Abu Hmaid died in prison in December 2022, 14 months after a lung cancer diagnosis and without receiving appropriate treatment. Ill detainees also frequently pass away soon after their release.

“We’re running out of time,” Sanaa says. “[But] his health hasn’t hit the point of no return yet. He can still be treated, if he is released in the coming days.”

There is no cure for his condition and this is not what Sanaa is hoping for. But with the right treatment, Walid might be able to live the two years the Israeli Prison Service’s medical administration has ascribed him, alongside the wife and daughter who are fighting for him.

“All the suffering he is currently going through is due to a lack of treatment appropriate for his condition,” says Sanaa.

“Not scared of Ben-Gvir”

But Walid’s terminal diagnosis and fierce Israeli opposition to his release on parole, rather than demoralizing the family, are a galvanizing factor in their push to release him.

“We as a family are prepared to use all legal, popular, and political means in order to secure his release,” says Sanaa. “This crazy campaign led by the occupation against Walid is not new. The Israeli media always tries to incite against Walid, but that doesn’t scare us. We’re not scared of Ben-Gvir or other fascist ministers.”

The Daqqahs are calling on the Palestinian public and officials to participate in solidarity protests on Wednesday 31 May in conjunction with Walid’s parole hearing.

Not placing any faith in Israel’s governmental parole board, Sanaa thinks her husband’s case will eventually end up in front of the Israeli High Court of Justice.

“The court battle is going to take longer – weeks, maybe months,” she suggests. “But we’re ready to make extreme efforts.”

Three-year-old Milad Daqqah has been a constant presence in the campaign to release her father. [Source: Sari Sabatin/Twitter]
Ahmad Awwad provided additional reporting for this article.

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