Walid Daqqa, a Palestinian writer, activist, intellectual, and political prisoner from the city of Baqa Al-Gharbiya in the 1948 occupied Palestinian territories, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow cancer in 2022 and has since then been in dire need of urgent medical attention. Walid, 61, is one of the 19 Palestinians that have spent more than 30 years in Israeli occupation prisons and is one of the 23 who have been incarcerated since before the Oslo Accords came into effect in 1991. Doctors have insinuated that his worsening health results from the Israeli Prison Service (IPS)’s systemic practice of deliberate medical neglect, including a recent denial of emergency hospital transfer after Walid suffered from a blood-clot-induced stroke in Askalan prison last month. He was finally moved to Barzilai Medical Center 11 days after he survived the stroke, following the recommendation of the Askalan prison doctor.
Amidst deteriorating healthcare conditions for Palestinian political prisoners throughout occupied Palestine and the IPS’s increasing weaponization of medical neglect to wage a psychological war on Palestinians in prison—tantamount to torture under international law—the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council calls for the immediate release of Walid Daqqa and demands that he be provided the prescribed treatment that Israel has denied him so far.
On 25 March 1986, Walid Daqqa was arrested by Israeli occupation forces and sentenced to imprisonment for life, capped at a maximum term of 37 years. Walid was detained for allegedly partaking in military resistance against the Israeli settler-colonial and apartheid regime in 1985 as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Palestinian political party outlawed by Israeli military orders. Today, 37 years later, Walid continues to be held captive by Israel as he battles the malignant stage of a rare form of bone marrow cancer—myelofibrosis.
In 2020, after Walid began to suffer from blood-related health concerns and experienced a sharp decline in his general health, he was advised periodic blood tests by the prison doctor, access to which the IPS deliberately denied. On 7 December 2022, Walid was diagnosed with leukemia after being admitted to Barzilai Medical Centre following a sudden deterioration in his medical condition. Further tests revealed that he had a rare form of bone marrow cancer, similar to leukemia, that causes the body to disrupt the normal production of blood cells and requires immediate treatment through a bone marrow transplant.
In January 2023, at the behest of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, an Israeli hematologist based at the Medical Centre of Hadassah Hospital University in occupied and illegally annexed Jerusalem, Dr. Moshe Gatt evaluated Walid’s medical condition. Observing that Walid has multiple cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, increased blood pressure, and dyslipidemia and has developed severe anemia after taking a preventative chemotherapy drug, Gatt concluded that Walid is currently in the malignant stage of cancer. In his medical report, Gatt prognosed that without definitive treatment, as has been the case so far, Walid has an “average survival of about a year and a half.”
He noted further that the drug that was prescribed to him by his own physician (assigned by the IPS), while providing temporary relief, severely compromised his immunity and increased his risk of contracting infections. It also decreased his total blood count, worsening the underlying cause of bone marrow cancer. The only curative treatment for Walid is a bone marrow transplant—one of the most difficult and dangerous medical procedures currently known. Gatt also recommended that Walid be put in a clean place where exposure to infections can be minimized, neither of which is possible inside the miserable conditions offered by Israeli prisons.
In mid-February 2023, Walid suffered from a severe cardiovascular stroke that led to a physical injury on his chest. Not only did the IPS in Askalan prison refuse to transfer him to a hospital for emergency treatment, the in-house prison clinic, despite diagnosing a blood clot as the cause of the stroke, refused to provide him with a necessary blood transfusion. Consequently, Walid lost a lot of blood through a minor tongue wound in the days that followed. Further, his medical records indicated that he lost over 10 kilos (22 pounds) in one and a half months. Only after his hematologist visited Askalan for a routine appointment, nearly two weeks after the stroke, was Walid finally transferred to Barzilai Medical Center. Similarly, as Walid developed symptoms of severe pneumonia over the past couple of weeks, the IPS once again ignored his health and evaded hospital admission until his lawyers and doctors intervened. Walid is currently being held in a private room at Barzilai, suffering from pneumonia, kidney failure, and a life-threatening drop in blood cell count.
It is undeniable that the IPS played a direct, if not exclusive role, in the development of Walid’s life-threatening condition. Walid was denied his periodic blood tests, prescribed as early as 2018, as a punishment for a minor violation of proscribed prison conduct—smuggling cell phones into his prison cell. As an indictment of this behavior, Walid’s life sentence was summarily extended by two years, preventing his scheduled release in 2023.
Further, the Israeli occupation prison has deprived him of a timely bone marrow transplant—the only known treatment course that can save his life recommended by every doctor that has been consulted. In flagrant disregard for the medical advice offered by Israeli hematologist Dr. Gatt, the IPS has continued to expose him to high-risk environments; when he has succumbed to such risks, the IPS has refused to transfer him to the hospital in a timely manner. In each of these ways, the IPS has used the cruel and inhumane practice of medical negligence as a means of “slow killing”—wearing down Walid physically and psychologically, crumbling his resolve and resilience.
Israel has long been wary of Walid’s political reach and his prominence as a prison activist. In addition to his far-reaching popularity for his principled political resistance against the occupation, Walid has actively produced resistance literature, particularly directed at Palestinian children, from his time behind the bars. In prison, Walid obtained a master’s degree in political science, wrote extensively on political theory, and published several works of fiction that discuss his ideas, aspirations, and experiences around the movement for a liberated Palestine. In the past, therefore, the Israeli occupying forces have reneged on a prisoner exchange deal, set up in accordance with the Oslo Accords, that would have released him in 2014. (According to the Oslo II Accords of 1994, all Palestinian prisoners taken into captivity prior to the agreement are required to have been released by now).
Walid, who has been subjected to several documented instances of psychological and physical torture during his four decades in prison, was thrown into solitary confinement when he published a poignant children’s book on the occupation of Palestine titled The Oil’s Secret Tale. In 1999, Israel submitted to pressure from prison rights activists and allowed Walid to marry his now wife, Sana’ Salama, in Askalan prison, which the couple celebrated in confinement. (Israel does not extend to Palestinian prisoners the right of conjugal visits that it allows Israeli prisoners.) In 2020, the couple had a daughter, Milad, conceived through sperm that the couple smuggled from prison. Walid wrote another book, Parallel Time, based on his experiences of a child of a Palestinian prisoner who was similarly born through smuggled sperm.
In February 2023, the Israeli occupation forces raided the home of Sana’ and Milad Daqqa in Baqa Al-Gharbiya and confiscated books, pictures, and personal property under the pretext that they “incite terrorism”. Currently, Israel is withholding Sana’s right to visit her husband at Barzilai as he fights a life-threatening condition. In other words, Israel has launched a sustained campaign of collective punishment targeting the Daqqa family to retaliate against Walid’s unfettered and powerful political voice.
The Illegal and Arbitrary Policy of Medical Negligence in Israeli Occupation Prisons
The instrumentalization of medical negligence to denigrate, demoralize, and punish Palestinian prisoners is emblematic of Israel’s illegal and inhumane prison system. As recently as in December 2022, Palestinian political prisoner Nasser Abu-Hamid, aged 50, died of cancer that had prematurely accelerated to malignancy because of gross medical negligence in Askalan prison. Despite repeated calls by Palestinian civil society and the international human rights community, including a submission by Special Rapporteurs Francesca Albanese and Tlaleng Mofokeng to the state of Israel, Israel denied Nasser an early release on humanitarian grounds and a dignified end to his life. After his death in custody, Israel refused to hand over his body to his family, withholding Nasser’s right to a proper burial, a form of psychological punishment employed to degrade and humiliate the families of deceased Palestinians.
At present, the Israeli occupation continues to hold the bodies of twelve Palestinian prisoners who passed away during their incarceration, including Anis Doula (deceased in 1980), Aziz Owaisat (deceased in 2018), Fares Baroud, Nassar Taqatqa, and Bassam Al-Sayeh (deceased in 2019), Saadi Al-Garabli and Kamal Abu Wa’ar (deceased in 2020) Sami Al-Amour (deceased in 2021), Daoud Zubeidi and Nasser Abu-Hamid (deceased in 2022), and Ahmad Abu Ali and Wade’ Abu Rmooz (deceased 2023). Since 1967, the total number of Palestinian prisoners who have passed away in Israeli occupation prisons has reached 236. Of them, 75 prisoners (32%) have passed away as a result of medical negligence. Aside from holding Palestinian prisoners' bodies in freezers, the medical negligence of prisoners takes the form of denial of access to specialized healthcare and periodic check-ups. Meanwhile, the ill-treatment of ailing prisoners involves the inhumane practice of shackling them to their hospital beds.
In sum, the Israeli occupation authorities persist in their brazen violation of international norms and conventions that seek to protect prisoners, especially those who are weak and ailing. For instance, Israel continually violates international humanitarian law that guarantees the provision of necessary medical care to those who are sick. Furthermore, the collective and retaliatory penalties that are targeted directly at Palestinian prisoners, but punish Palestinian people at large, can be perceived as collective punishment and a means to control the Palestinian people. In addition to the specific clauses of the international human rights and humanitarian law that Israel has violated through its inhumane incarceration policies, incriminating itself in the eyes of international law, the very premise of Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians exposes the settler colonial character of the apartheid state.
Immediate Urgent Intervention Needed
Taking into account Walid Daqqa’s rapidly deteriorating health, the grave threat to his life posed by his captivity in a disease-ridden hospital and prison, the summary extension of his life sentence by two years on spurious charges, the enforced physical separation between Walid and his family during a life-threatening medical emergency, and the larger structures of illegality within which these inhumane aspects of Walid’s incarceration operates, PHROC calls for the following:
- The immediate grant of humanitarian release to Palestinian political prisoner Walid Daqqa by the Israeli occupying forces to guarantee his right to life, health, and dignity;
- The prompt access to advanced and timely treatments prescribed by medical specialists to Walid Daqqa by the Israeli Prisoner Service, including a clean and infection-free environment and access to donors and facilities for a bone marrow transplant;
- The immediate extension of prison and hospital visitation rights by the Israeli Prisoner Service to Walid Daqqa’s wife Sanaa and daughter Milad so they can visit Walid at Barzilai Medical Center;
- The increased exertion of pressure by the International Committee of the Red Cross on the Israeli occupation forces to raise compliance by prison administrators to the humanitarian clauses of the Fourth Geneva Convention that enlist the rights of prisoners in occupied territories; and
- The increased effort on the part of the international community and all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations towards upholding Palestinian human rights and enforcing the implementation of international humanitarian law.