Sana’ and Milad Daqqah: Reproductive Heroism Defies Israel’s Prisons and Genocide

Photo by Palestinian Youth Movement.

I had the honor to be among the 3,600 people who greeted Palestinian journalist Sana’ Salameh Daqqah and her four year old child Milad at the recent Peoples Conference for Palestine held in Detroit over the May 24-26th weekend.  Mother and daughter were enthusiastically cheered by thousands of participants gathered in an auditorium which had been renamed Walid Daqqah Hall for martyred Palestinian political prisoner Walid Daqqah, Sana’s husband and Milad’s father. Their presence at the conference, carefully planned by the conference organizers, was an extraordinary expression of Palestinian resistance. Sana’ and Milad had overcome multiple travel obstacles meant to deter their appearance at this landmark solidarity conference. Most significantly, they had surmounted decades of obstruction by the Zionist prison system meant to prevent the birth of Milad.

Milad was conceived through the smuggling of sperm by Walid Daqqah from inside an Israeli prison. She was born to Sana’ in February 2020 during the 34th year of Walid’s imprisonment.  Walid and Sana’ met in a prison visiting room in 1996 when Sana’ came to report on prisoner conditions. In 1999 they won the difficult fight to get married inside Ashkelon prison with the presence of their comrades and members of their family. However, they were unable to win their struggle for conjugal visits.

Walid had been arrested in 1986 at the age of twenty-five and convicted of directing a group that abducted and killed an Israeli soldier for the purpose of exchanging him for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. His thirty-seven year sentence meant that he would likely be too old to have a child by the time he was released. So Sana’and Walid committed to the “liberation of sperm,”as Sana’ called it in a speech at the conference.

The insurgent project of smuggling sperm out of prison to ensure future generations of Palestinians was first successful in 2012.  Since then, the practice has increased significantly among Palestinian prisoners given the growing predominance of long sentences (many Palestinian prisoners are serving double or triple life sentences amounting to over 100 years.). According to Sana’, “The prisoners decided to create life from a life sentence.” These children are known as “the ambassadors of freedom.”  Over 115 children have been birthed in this way.

In 2011, on the occasion of his twenty-fifth year in prison, Walid wrote a poem for the unborn child he wished to have. The couple had already decided to call the child Milad which means “birth” in Arabic.

I write to my child that has not been born yet,
I write to the birth (Milad) of the future.
This is how we want to name our child,
and this is exactly how I would like for the future to recognize us….

The revolutionary drive of political prisoners to have children, defying the agents of incarceration, extends beyond Palestinians. Gerardo Hernández, one of the U.S.-held Cuban 5 political prisoners whom I corresponded with for several years, “liberated” his sperm in 2014 from the U.S. federal prison in Victorville where he was incarcerated. The Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 and falsely accused by the U.S. government of committing espionage conspiracy against the United States. In reality the Five were monitoring the actions of U.S.-based terrorist groups in order to prevent those groups from carrying out further attacks against Cuba.

In December 2014, after sixteen years of imprisonment, Gerardo and two other members of the Five won a resounding victory and were released from prison (two other members had already been freed.) Joyously, Gerardo was able to be present on January 6, 2015 when his wife Adriana Pérez, gave birth to their baby girl, Gema.

When asked to comment about Walid and Sana’s experience for this article Gerardo, who is now the national coordinator of Cuba’s Committees in Defense of the Revolution, told Resumen LatinoAmericano English:

“When I heard the remarkable story of Walid and Sana’, I could not help but compare it to Adriana and my experience when I was in a federal US prison serving two life sentences for monitoring the activity of Cuban American terrorists in Miami. Since we were married, before I went to prison, we too had dreamed of having children and through a long, determined struggle and a negotiated agreement, we were able to conceive our first child Gema while I was still behind bars. This is where the comparison ends because what Walid and Sana’ went through to have Milad is a victory of unbelievable courage and belief in Palestine. I look forward to a day when Sana’ and Milad can break bread together with our family and when Palestine is sovereign and free like Cuba.”

Che Guevara’s famous statement that it is easier to kill a guerrilla in the womb than in the mountains helped to explain imperialist population control policies in Latin America in the 1960’s & 70’s that were killing off generations before they could be born and grow up to be freedom fighters. Since the 1970’s, the U.S. and Israel have expanded the incarceration of people during their reproductive years as another front of population control. From bans on conjugal visits in Israeli prisons to forcible sterilization in U.S. women’s prisons and immigration detention centers, population control is now an integral function of both the Israeli and U.S. prison systems that seek to repress oppressed peoples and prevent them from organizing for change. Liberating sperm is one way to subvert the carceral repression of reproduction.

After the birth of Milad, Walid was punished with years of solitary confinement. Walid and Sana’ had to fight fiercely first to register Milad’s birth and later for the right to a family visit with her father in prison. After Walid finally got to visit Milad he wrote, “Today I experienced what it felt like for the prisoners who dug a tunnel out of the prison, stepped out into the light, and were then caught. It was a moment of freedom, a freedom with Milad.”

Walid was sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison and was supposed to be released in March 2023. However, in 2018 the Israeli government added two years to his sentence for his alleged help with bringing cell phones into the prison to enable prisoners to communicate with their families. In addition to the added sentence, they also denied him regular blood tests to monitor the cancer which he had developed a number of years before. The article Setting the Future Free, describes Sana’s arduous struggle to get Walid medical treatment for his cancer. “Daqqah’s family and supporters call out this medical neglect as deliberate, a regular policy of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to control and ultimately eliminate the political prison population.”

Despite an international campaign for Walid’s medical care and freedom, he was kept in the Ramleh prison clinic, known as ‘the slaughterhouse,’ until it was too late and he died due to medical neglect on April 7, 2024. The campaign has since shifted to a demand for the release of his body to his family which the Israeli authorities are withholding from the family “unlawfully and unconstitutionally.” Recently, the Israeli security minister decided that they would continue to withhold his body because of its value in negotiations for the Israeli captives held by the Palestinian Resistance. Israel’s criminal population control methods extend from birth to death and beyond.

Six weeks after Walid’s death, Sana’ and Milad traveled to Detroit. Their presence at the conference dramatically asserted the importance of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. At a special plenary session, Sana’ detailed the history of the prisoner movement and how over time the prisoners became organized, developed educational programs, intellectual and cultural contributions and resistance strategies from hunger strikes to liberated sperm.

However, Sana’ cautioned, “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.” She explained that to the state of Israel, breaking the resistance of prisoners goes hand in hand with breaking the resistance in Gaza. She strongly urged the people and organizations at the conference to center the issue of prisoners “at every activity, every demonstration, every gathering.”

She continued “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. “

Sana’ and Milad are heroes of this people and this movement. Their presence brought an indelible, life affirming inspiration to the Peoples Conference that will be carried forward in the continuing struggle for a Free Palestine!

Diana Block works with the Bay Area Cuba Saving Lives Committee. She is a founding and active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners , an abolitionist organization that celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020. She is the author of a memoir, Arm the Spirit – A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back (AKPress 2009), and a novel, Clandestine Occupations – An Imaginary History (PM Press 2015). She writes for various online journals.