Leading Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa diagnosed with cancer after lengthy delays in medical care

Palestinian prisoner, writer and thinker Walid Daqqa is facing a serious deterioration in his health; on 7 December 2022, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society announced that he was diagnosed with leukemia after medical examinations. The Palestinian prisoners’ movement declared that the delay in identifying his condition is due to Israeli occupation medical negligence and a policy of “slow killing” directed against the Palestinian prisoners as a whole — noting that the Israeli occupation and its prison administration is fully responsible for his life and health. On 15 December 2022, this condition was updated — in fact, he has myelofibrosis, a rare form of bone marrow cancer.

Walid Daqqa has suffered from health problems and concern about his blood for years; two years ago, he was told that he should receive regular blood tests two years ago. However, due to the constant delays in health care experienced by Palestinian prisoners as part of the occupation’s policy of medical negligence, he did not receive the ordered regular testing until now and his cancer remained undiagnosed.

Palestinian prisoners developing cancer, not being diagnosed in a timely manner, not receiving proper treatment and even being denied compassionate relief on their deathbeds — as in the case of Nasser Abu Hmaid, who has been near death in Ramla prison clinic and has been repeatedly denied release.

Daqqa is one of the most prominent and long-time Palestinian prisoners, known widely for his writing and cultural work from behind bars. Born in 1961 in Baqa’ al-Gharbiyya in occupied Palestine ’48, he has been imprisoned since 25 March 1986 along with Ibrahim Abu Mukh, Rushdi Abu Mukh and Ibrahim Bayadseh, for forming a military cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that participated in a Palestinian resistance operation in 1985 in which an occupation soldier was captured and killed.

Once behind bars, he obtained a master’s degree in political science and wrote several books in the realm of political theory as well as fiction, including children’s fiction. On multiple occasions, he has faced harsh repression, including solitary confinement, especially targeted toward his expressive work. For example, Daqqa was thrown into solitary confinement when he published a new children’s book, “The Secret of Oil”; a launch event for the book in the town of Majd al-Kurum was shut down by far-right Israeli minister Aryeh Deri. In the preface to the book, Daqqa wrote, “I write until I am freed from prison, with the hope of freeing the prison from me.” This followed the defunding of a Haifa Palestinian theater that exhibited a play based on his work “Parallel Time.”

As Khaled Barakat wrote about Daqqa’s work, “This novel has been widely distributed among children and youth and is a living example of the need to move beyond the ‘symbolic relationship’ with iconic prisoners to a deeper, closer relationship between the reader and the writer. The prisoner in this case is a creative human first and also a writer and a struggler.”

In the book, Daqqa tells an imaginative story about a child born through smuggled sperm, where Palestinian prisoners smuggle sperm to their wives to allow them to have children from behind bars. In 1999, Daqqa married Sana’ Salameh, even as he was behind bars, and in 2020, Sana’ gave birth to their daughter, Milad, conceived from Daqqa’s smuggled sperm.

Sana’ Salameh and Milad Walid Daqqa waiting for a visit with their husband and father

Speaking about Milad’s birth, Sana’ Salameh said, “First, Milad was our dream and the idea of having a baby is possible for any couple who does not live in our circumstances. In other words, it is obvious for a married couple to have children after marriage. However, behind Israeli bars, it was kind of impossible to be a father or a mother. The dream of having Milad one day has been with us for 20 years. We even named her before her birth. In fact, the lack of possible liberation pushed us to the challenge and we succeeded in bringing a child that was one day a dream; 2020 was the birth of our beautiful daughter Milad. It was necessary to confront injustice and deprivation and not submit to despair. Milad’s birth was the candle that lit the world and the realization of the dream, so it became real.”

Daqqa is also one of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners and one of 26 who were held back from release through Israeli violations of the notorious Oslo accords; in the case of Daqqa and other long-term prisoners from Palestine ’48, the Israeli regime has refused to treat their release as a collective matter with other Palestinian prisoners because they are Israeli citizens. However, behind prison bars they are subjected to the same treatment as all other Palestinian prisoners, without the privileges granted to Jewish Israeli prisoners, such as weekend release and conjugal visits.

The Palestinian prisoners’ movement issued a statement upon Daqqa’s diagnosis: “We knew when we made our decision to resist this occupation what we could face, whether martyrdom or captivity, and all that entails. At the forefront of that are the diseases that ravage our bodies, but today we affirm that despite the pain that squeezes our hearts when we see disease ravage our brothers’ bodies, we are even more determined and committed to continue the struggle until liberation and self-determination.”

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network joins with the Palestinian prisoners’ movement in highlighting the ongoing policy of medical neglect targeting the Palestinian prisoners, underlining that the occupation is fully responsible for Walid Daqqa’s life and health, as it is for the situation of all sick and ill prisoners. We demand the immediate release of Walid Daqqa and all Palestinian prisoners!