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Empty Chairs

The struggles of women, while their husbands are in prison

Jerusalem24 – Mohammad Hamayel- April 17th, marks Palestinian Prisoner’s day; when Palestinians comemmorate their brothers, sisters and friends held in Israeli prisons. According to the Palestinian Negotiations Department, an estimated 750 thousand Palestinians have been detained by Israel since 1967 until today. This number makes up around 20 percent of the total Palestinian population and 40 percent of all males.

One of these Palestinians imprisoned by Israel is Walid Daqqa, who was born in the town of Baqa al-Gharbiyeh in 1961. In 1986, while Daqqa was 25 years old he was sentenced to life in prison. He has served 36 years as of 2021, making him one of the longest-serving prisoners in Israel’s prison system. In 1999 while still in prison, Daqqa had married Palestinian journalist Sana’a Salameh. In a very rare instance, the Israeli Prison Administration allowed for a small wedding ceremony. After the wedding, however, he was taken away from his wife.

Walid Daqqa (Left) and Sana’a Salameh (Right) during their wedding.

In a conversation with Jerusalem24, Salameh spoke of her husband and  the time they lost. “Prisoner’s day and other occasions like the anniversary of Walid’s arrest a month ago, are important to be commemorated,” she said. She continues, “but they are always accompanied by regret and pain because they have taken our youth: our prisoners and our prisoners have spent many years in prisons.”

Milad Walid Daqqa, Sana’a and Walid’s daughter

Salameh also spoke about the challenges she faces concerning their daughter. While in prison, Daqqa wrote an open letter that was published in 2011, in it he spoke of his longing for a child “yet to be born,” he wished to name that child Milad. She was born when they managed to smuggle Daqqa’s sperm out of prison. A practice that has happened several times in the past ten years. “With the presence of a child, things are not like before,” says Salameh. Without wavering, she also said that while there are difficulties and challenges, however she considers it all “part of the march of resistance, steadfastness and confrontation that Walid himself faces before the Israeli Prison Administration and occupation.”

Life as a single parent is difficult, and having a spouse in prison is a similar experience. Salameh also spoke of those experiences to Jerusalem24, but she also expressed that she faces these challenges with steadfastness. “Of course life is difficult,” she says. “But there is also a lot of happiness and great hope. When determination is available it becomes easier to face any obstacles and defeat them,” she continued. Salameh realizes that her family isn’t alone in the struggles they face, “I believe there are thousands of Palestinian families like ours, where the father is absent in prison for long years.” She also spoke on the role of the mother in these circumstances as she “becomes both parents, the mother and father. She performs all the necessary roles in the family life.” Salameh tries to keep her imprisoned husband in their family life, “I always try to keep Walid as a part of our lives so he doesn’t become an absent parent. But the truth is the truth, and it must be confronted with strength.”

With regards to Walid’s absence, there are many situations that can be hard. Some are ongoing, others have become repititve aspects of their lives. Some simple and others very complex. “Everything we face on a daily basis requires us to take decisions without Walid’s participation,” says Salameh. “The obstacles that the occupation throws our way are infinite,” she stated. One of the family’s greatest challenges involves their daughter, Milad. “She is registered under my name and she even has legal documents,” says Salameh. She continues that, “however the Israeli Prison Administration prohibits Walid from seeing her, this is done by preventing her registration under his name in the Israeli Ministry of Interior’s legal documents.” This turned an already strenuous situation even more severe. “This reality is not simple, however, victory will be written in our favor at the end of this battle,” says Salameh defiantely. She continues, “but all these long months and years that pass us by, and being forced into a long legal battle remains straining.”

“But that is life, a series of confrontations, victories and disappointments. All that along with different feelings and emotions.”

– Sana’a Salameh

Manar Qawasmi and Osama alAshqar had become engaged while he was in prison. Osama was arrested in 2002 and is now serving a life sentence in Israel’s Ramon prison. “I have never lived with him before,” says Qawasmi. She goes on to tell Jerusalem24 about the difficulties she faces as the years pass by. “For example, Ramadan is a time of gatherings and get-togethers with the family,” she says. The feelings are intensified whenever she visits her fiancée’s family, she says “Whenever I see his family I pray to God and wish he is us,” she says. She continues, “Not just because he isn’t with us, but that he is also in prison. Considering that Ramadan is part of the holidays, it becomes a difficult time for prisoners.”

Osama alAshqar and his fiancée Manar Qawasmi

Like Salameh’s marriage, Qawasmi’s engagement is different than the average love story. “There is no real communication or visits,” says Qawasmi.” She still hasn’t given up on being able to see him, “Several months ago I applied for a visit permit and I am still waiting for an answer so I can go and see him.” Qawasmi has no real opportunity to get to know her fiancée. That aside, her life is full of challenges aside from the occupation. “Some people see that I am committed to something unknown, and that I am not obligated to be with someone whose destiny is mysterious,” she says.  She adds that, “when someone knows about my relationship with Osama they call me crazy, that has become normal for me.” Hopeful for a brighter future, Qawasmi says that “I know where I am going and I believe in the justice of the idea.” She concludes that “I didn’t take this step without knowing where I am going.”

“The desire for victory will always be greater than challenge thrown our away.”

– Sana’a Salameh



Edit Update: The original publication of this story stated that Walid Daqqa was arrested in 1988, he was in fact arrested in 1986. Making the total time of his arrest of 36 years and not 33 years.

Mohammad Hamayel

Ramallah based journalist, Mohammad graduated from Al-Quds University with a B.A. in Media and Television. He has covered the 2015 Jerusalem Intifada as well as the Great March of Return for international media outlets. currently an editor/presenter at Jerusalem24. A UN alumni and a follower of global events and politics, especially American affairs.

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