Creating life from a life sentence: Sana’ Daqqah on the Palestinian prisoners’ movement

Sana’ Daqqah, activist, journalist, and the wife of the martyred prisoner Walid Daqqah, on the significance of the prisoners’ struggle to Palestinian liberation

May 28, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Sana' Daqqah and her daughter, Milad, at the People's Conference for Palestine (Photo: Palestinian Youth Movement)

Sana’ Daqqah, activist, journalist, and the wife of the martyred Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqah, gave a second address to the People’s Conference for Palestine on its last day, on May 26, at a special plenary session entitled “The Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement & the Struggle for Liberation.”

Sana’, through her advocacy for her husband and her meetings with various other political prisoners, imparts the lessons of the prisoners’ movement in Palestine. “And the idea is, they wanted the prisoners to be buried inside of the prison through this life sentence. But instead, what happens is the prisoners enter the prisons, become educated, cultured, and graduate,” Sana’ outlined. “And they teach others, they become teachers themselves, and they open houses, raise families, have children even, like Milad.” Milad Daqqah, the daughter of Walid and Sana’, was born in February 2020, conceived through smuggled sperm in defiance of Israeli authorities denying the couple conjugal visits. 

Midway through the plenary session, Sana’ and Walid’s four-year-old daughter, Milad Daqqah, who had been patiently sitting by her mother at the podium, signaled that she would like to say a few words. She then read from a piece of paper: “My mom, my beloved, you are my entire world.”

Below is a full transcription of Sana’s address, lightly edited for clarity:

From the beginning of the Zionist occupation of Palestine and following the Nakba of ‘48, and when the resistance was forged, and I’m talking here about the resistance that became organized, not the one that existed before, because, of course, before the Nakba, there was resistance. This is when the arrests and the prison system was established, and the prison movement itself was formulated in the 60s, after this period of organization took place. 

What the prisoner movement is going through right now reminds me of what it looked like during the 60s. At that time, it was before the prisoner movement in Palestine was actually organized. The way [the Israelis are] taking them back to before organization is by using tactics of torture, abuse, and repression within the prisons. 

What happened actually, during the 60s, as the prisons started to form, there were thousands upon thousands of youth who were starting to get detained as a response to the resistance. But what I actually believe that the Palestinian prisoner movement was able to do is to organize itself, which doesn’t exist in most parts of the prison systems of the world.

In the 60s, the prisoners were placed in cells without the bare necessities for life. And in this way, the occupation tried to bury the youth, the thousands of youth that entered into the prisons. But instead, the exact opposite happened, and the resistance emerged within the prisoners’ movement in the 70s through hunger strikes.

In the first hunger strike that took place, its basic demand was to have paper, pens, and pencils. From the beginning of this hunger strike, the first hunger strike, we started seeing the organization of the prisoner movement, which really allowed the prisoners to fight and resist against the prison authorities. 

The prisoner movement, since it became organized in our Palestinian struggle, has always had a really heavy weight in our national struggle. Even from the very first strike, there were martyrs. Ishaq Maragha and Anis al-Dawla are some of the names of martyrs from that first hunger strike. 

The reason these prisoners used these hunger strikes is because it’s the only weapon that prisoners have against the prison guards. 

In order to get organized, they mobilized themselves into a structure that had some form of hierarchy. Through that hierarchy, they were able to flip the prisons to universities and centers for education, where they were graduating academics and intellectuals. In every prison there was a breakdown, there was a structure established or a system, and within it you had a committee, the detainees’ representative or spokesperson, even for the specific room there would be a representative or a spokesperson that was assigned on behalf of the rest of the prisoners. 

This vision that emerged from the prisoners, beginning in the 80s into the late 80s and the beginning of the 90s, played a critical role during the First Intifada itself. In fact, much of the First Intifada was itself administered from within the prisons themselves. And even after these prisoners were liberated, they continued to lead the political struggle on the outside.

And so all of the efforts and attempts by the enemy occupation, or the Israeli occupation, to undermine the political role of the prisoners and the prisoner movement, was responded to with a raising of consciousness and a raising of the willingness of prisoners to sustain their resistance as prisoners through a long period, and over years. 

And everyday, the resistance would take place, and be sustained through a 24 hour period, in front of the actual prison guards. And the prison authorities attempted to use various tactics in order to defeat or undermine the prisoners’ movement, including isolations, solitary confinement, raids within the cells. They would shoot them with live rounds and gas, and they would actually shoot gas bombs into closed rooms, and you could imagine, even on the outside, when these gas bombs are used, people are suffocated by them. But now think about what it’s like to be inside an actual prison. 

These tactics failed in their ability to actually undermine the prisoners’ movement. The prisoners’ movement continues to retain a central role and a heavy weight within the Palestinian national struggle. 

What the prisoners’ movement was able to do is produce some of the most important icons and symbols of our national liberation struggle and resistance. From being so close to the prisoner movement through Walid, through visiting the prisons, and meeting with a lot of the prisoners that have now left the prisons, and being with them at very different junctures of our national liberation struggle, I can tell you fully that we have to be proud to be part of a people that brings out a prisoner movement like this, and brings out heroes and resistance fighters like the ones we have in our prisoners’ movement. 

For example, an issue that the prisoners held dear to them was how they can be free within the prison, and that was through the smuggling of their writings, of books, of their word or their message. That also includes the smuggling out of sperm. I call this the liberation of sperm. This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. The prisoners decided to create life from a life sentence. 

The idea is, they wanted the prisoners to be buried inside of the prison through this life sentence. But instead, what happens is the prisoners enter the prisons, become educated, cultured, and graduate. This is all in and of itself a process of smuggling their education. They teach others, they become teachers themselves, they open houses, raise families, have children even, like Milad. 

Nowadays, the prisoners are going through a really difficult and ugly campaign of abuse and torture. And a lot of the prisoners that are coming out are bearing witness to this, or being tortured, and being witnesses to this really disgusting campaign. It’s actually very difficult to process when we hear from the prisoners coming out, what they’re going through.

This is to say that the Zionist occupation and the prison guards are really just barbaric monsters. And they do this because they want to break the spirit and strength of the prisoners. And the goal they have in Gaza of breaking our people, they also have for the prisoners. Because they go after any nucleus of resistance, and they want to break any tools that our people use to resist, because they have no humanity. 

With this, I want to call on all legal organizations, all organizations that are active here, to really raise the voice of our prisoners. Because all efforts have an effect to support the prisoners through what they’re going through right now. 

I urge all those who can to continue to raise their voices on the issue of prisoners, because all of these efforts have their effect and play a role in supporting the prisoners and the prisoners’ movement. Because our prisoners are in need of serious support. This occupation sees an opportunity in this current moment to liquidate our prisoners. To liquidate the symbols of the prisoners’ movement, the symbols of our leadership, like what they did with Walid. 

Because of that, we want to say that we do not want to meet our prisoners as martyrs. We want to meet them as liberated and free. 

We need the prisoners and their struggles centered in every activity, every demonstration, every gathering, because the prisoners must remain a primary title or agenda item, because they are currently subjected to extreme amounts of abuse and repression, because they want to get rid of these prisoners, and get rid of the prisoners’ movement specifically. 

We do not fear this racist state, regardless of its strength and power. We remain committed to our dignity, our honor, our independence, our land, and nation. 

I want to give an example. When a person makes a basic demand, or achieves a basic demand, it’s as though this person has done something grand, magnificent.

When me and Walid birthed Milad, there was this celebration that took place, and there was this popular cradling of us by our people. Walid and I were married, and we just wanted to have a child like any two people who marry. But because of our situation, because of the circumstances, there was this huge celebration that made me feel as though I did something grand or magnificent. 

I do not look at this right, this basic right of having a child as something that’s grand. When it comes to demanding a basic right of ours, a right that cats and dogs have in the streets, to demand this basic demand is to have a grand achievement, and you’ve upset the occupation.

What I know is we must continue to affirm our land, our nation, our honor, and our independence. Thank you.