The Guard Would Not Release Abu Hadwan's Restraints, Even When He Was Dying of Cancer

As far back as the 1990s, Mohammed Abu Hadwan's fellow prisoners knew he had increasing trouble breathing. The Shikma prison in Ashkelon allowed him - as it did other older, sick prisoners - to remain for long hours in the yard, beyond the two daily walks usually allowed. If anyone should get out, his prison mates thought, it's him.

"Abu Hadwan used to sit in a chair next to the library in the yard, and the prisoner-librarian, more than 20 years his junior, would make him tea or coffee, and they would discuss books," recalls a prisoner from those days.

That yard has since been given over for the use of criminal prisoners. Abu Hadwan was later moved to the prison medical center, where he was hospitalized for seven years until he was transferred to Assaf Harofeh Hospital, where he died on November 4 at the age of 59.

Abu Hadwan, a Jerusalemite, was jailed for life in 1985 after an explosive charge he set resulted in an injury to a Jewish person, whose leg had to be amputated. At the end of the 1980s, Abu Hadwan, who was a member of Fatah, joined a group of Fatah prisoners at the Nafkha prison who had become devout Muslims.

His son, Hassan, says that at Shikma prison, where he was later transferred, Hadwan shared a cell with Hamas members because he was religious, but that he supported the peace process. In any case, the death notices in the Old City were put up by Fatah. The two accomplices to his crime remained Fatah members and were released in early 2000.

While Abu Hadwan was in the prison medical center, his family was only allowed to see him once every two weeks for 45 minutes. The visits took place behind two thick wire screens. From visit to visit it became harder for him to walk.

Three years ago, the Prisons Service revoked the rule that children under age 10 could come in at the end of the visit to allow their father, brother or grandfather to embrace and kiss them. The reason: Someone had tried to smuggle in a cell phone. The prohibition was enforced in the prison medical center as well. Thus, during the years his medical condition worsened, he was unable to embrace his small grandchildren.

In mid-October 2004, when Umm Hassan came for her biweekly visit to the medical center, she waited hours until she was told "your husband is not here. He must have gone to court." Only a few days later the authorities called to say that Abu Hadwan had been moved.

When Umm Hassan was finally allowed into her husband's room by the guard outside, she found him cuffed hand and foot to the bed, and wearing only a diaper. At first she did not recognize him.

The restraints were only removed after they shouted in protest. On that visit, he still opened his eyes and said "Umm Hassan." Later they were allowed to visit every day, but he no longer opened his eyes. He died 10 days later. Before they were allowed to take his body, they had to sign a release that they had no claims against the authorities.

Abu Hadwan was one of the sick prisoners the Palestinian Authority had asked be released during the Oslo period. The family asked the president to pardon him. Later they tried legal avenues, in vain.

The Palestinian expectation that Israel release sick prisoners is based on two moral principles and one practical one, says Kadura Fares, former spokesman for Fatah prisoners and a member of the prisoners' release committee. The release of very sick prisoners is considered an accepted humanitarian step, and the continued incarceration of a sick prisoner, certainly a dying one, borders on vengeance inappropriate in a system of law and justice. And there is nothing to fear from an elderly, sick security prisoner who only wants proper care and the warmth of his family at the end of his life.

Physicians for Human Rights has a list of dozens of sick and injured Palestinian prisoners it has received from security prisoners at Shikma. Among then are 11 severely ill with kidney disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments. No small number of prisoners were wounded by Israel Defense Forces bullets over the last five years. Some are amputees, have lost their sight or have severe internal injuries. Dozens more need regular medication and good medical supervision to prevent deterioration of their condition.