Walid Daqqa, Abu Milad: This farewell is hardest of all

Walid Daqqa, Abu Milad: This farewell is hardest of all
7 min read

Azmi Bishara

08 April, 2024
Walid Daqqa yearned for his freedom, to embrace his daughter Milad, and to die at home - but Israel's incomprehensible cruelty denied him that right.
Walid Daqqa has died at 62 after 38 years in captivity for his part in killing an Israeli soldier in 1986 [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

I had reckoned that Israel's crimes in Gaza, the suffering endured by its people, especially children, and the horrors of war that have disrupted our lives, would either shield us from personal sorrow forever or render it too embarrassing to acknowledge.

In truth, the frenzied bloodshed by the occupying state on Gaza had also almost overshadowed its daily crimes in the villages and cities of the West Bank, even though it has surpassed the intensity of its crackdowns during previous uprisings. And one has to force oneself to look beyond the manufactured media agenda to recognise how the occupation has exploited the war on Gaza to try to undo everything including the achievements of Palestinian prisoners in managing life behind bars, which they have imposed through their struggles. Israeli prisons have not witnessed such a high number of torture-induced deaths since 1967, in addition to depriving prisoners of important rights that they had painstakingly secured through decades of demands and organized struggles.

When news of Walid Daqqa's death reached me multiple times last night through mutual friends in Palestine, deep sorrow engulfed me. It wasn't just because of our long-standing friendship and mutual appreciation, but also because we failed in our efforts to secure his release alive. He ardently desired it; his ultimate goal was to breathe the air of freedom and to feel the touch of his daughter, Milad, without the jailer determining the duration of their meetings since she was born while he was behind bars.

He had no romantic notion of prison; freedom was his aspiration. But Israel sought revenge, and it was impossible to force Israel to rethink its vengeful refusal to release him and other prisoners with Israeli citizenship in prisoner exchange deals or even negotiate about them. Nonetheless, we had always hoped against hope that he would be released in the next deal, but death came first.

There is no selfishness in the sorrow we feel for Walid. After leaving Palestine, communication with Walid became sporadic through his wife and faithful companion, Sanaa, and through his brother Assad, who almost dedicated his entire life to him. In our last phone call via a mobile phone smuggled into the prison, he burst into tears as soon as I mentioned his name.

We spoke at length despite his emotional state, and my awareness that his jailers might be eavesdropping -- that's the reason they turn a blind eye to smuggled phones. There are no bounds to the sorrow I feel for him; it never occurred to me that I would meet him again, for his heart yearned for life, even if only briefly, outside the prison.

Details of life outside prison, mundane to others, became a dream beyond his reach. A free spirit can never adapt itself to imprisonment, or its petty details. I came to know many prisoners who couldn't endure their lengthy confinement without being consumed by these details. I am fond of them all. Walid talked to me about prison life too, but he was more preoccupied with the details of life outside prison, all that he missed since and after his capture, from major political events to the minutiae of life in his hometown, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, and its surroundings.


His focus on studying and reading inside the prison wasn't for the sake of it or to earn a university degree; it was a form of liberation, transcending the moral boundaries of prison and its routine, and I was his partner in this process.

The longing for freedom was the driving force for this gentle, refined man to persevere and continue living inside the prison for 38 years. He couldn't have borne to live these years as a continuous block, for that is akin to death, but he compartmentalized them by cutting them into short sequences of meaningful experiences, mobilization, and activism. Thus, in Walid's life in prison, there was a before and after meeting his wife, an activist for prisoners' rights, whom he fell in love with and loved. 

Afterwards, our meetings weren't enough; fearing eavesdropping, he wrote endless letters on this subject, followed by repeated requests to the authorities to allow him to marry in prison. There was also a before and after Milad's birth, a before and after starting writing for publication, and a before and after people knew him from his writings. Perhaps there was a before and after we met too.

He created for himself a life with a different rhythm from that of prison, a life that challenged and transcended its walls. With his passionate emotions and boundless love for those around him, he turned a life that could have been one of passive endurance or bleak depression, dictated by less humane and cultured prison guards, into a life rich with vitality.

I remember how in one of the early visits after more than ten years of his imprisonment, he proposed changing our strategy for advocating the release of prisoners, emphasizing their rights as Palestinian citizens of Israel. We were able at that time to sit with several prisoners together (before we were prohibited from doing so and the visit procedures were tightened, and I began to visit them individually, which took longer periods).

Some agreed with him, while others disagreed. The plan we devised required demanding a determinate term for life sentences, similar to how Israeli prisoners are treated, with the possibility of reducing the sentences after a specified period of two-thirds is served, as Israeli prisoners are also treated. Thus, the occupying state would have to choose; it couldn't refuse to include Palestinian prisoners in exchange deals on the pretext that they are citizens of Israel, where no Palestinian organization could speak on their behalf; while simultaneously continuing to refuse to treat them as citizens entitled to the rights of Israeli citizens.

We formulated the strategy and worked on its implementation for years, until the life sentence was set to 35 years, and 40 years in some cases. But the occupation authorities refused to reduce the sentence and persisted in refusing to include them in exchange deals. We failed. In the meantime, other prisoners who completed their specified "life sentence" were released. But Walid remained, as two more years were added to his sentence. He died in prison as he feared. He was martyred, as they say.

Walid didn't want to be martyred in prison; he wanted freedom. His death haunts me greatly, as I imagine his regret on his deathbed, alone and in captivity. It was beyond human comprehension to leave him to die in prison after serving his long sentence. It's the revenge motive that some downplay in understanding the behaviour of the Israeli occupation state, including the barbaric actions of its army in Gaza.

They sought revenge on Walid not only for a charge he denied, but also because he represented an existential challenge to them. He embodied a refusal to submit to them and refrained from complying with everything the life sentence meant. The prison guards and directors hated him because of his activity, elquence, vitality, and also because of his culture, and perhaps even because of the smile that never left his face.

Every time I met him there was a long embrace and a farewell, hoping for a subsequent meeting he eagerly insisted on, reproaching me when it was delayed.

Farewell, Walid Daqqa. This farewell is the hardest of all.

Dr. Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.

Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

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