Amnesty International’s press release advocating for Walid Daqqah’s release from prison included shocking misinformation about the murder of Moshe Tamam, the victim of the Walid Daqqah.
Background of the case
Walid Daqqah was one of four men who kidnapped Moshe Tamam in 1984, with the intention of smuggling him into the Syrian Arab Republic as a captive. After two days, because they were worried about the risks of being caught trying to smuggle him, they decided to kill him.
Walid Daqqah and his collaborators gouged out Moshe’s eyes and cut off parts of his body, including castrating him. Lastly, they took Moshe to an olive grove and shot him dead. His corpse was left there to be found.
The State of Israel initially sentenced Walid Daqqah to life in prison, but this was eventually shortened to 37 years. Then, when Walid was found running cell phones, two more years were added.
Due to his myelofibrosis diagnosis, Amnesty stated that Walid has one to two years left of life expectancy as of August, 2023. However, he is not scheduled for release for another eighteen months.
In the State of Israel, compassionate release is often reserved for the final weeks or months of someone’s life, rather than years.
The press release demands the immediate release of Walid Daqqah before the remaining two years of his sentence, because of his terminal illness, and treatment options at a civilian hospital that are not yet available at the secure hospital.
Amnesty International condemns the killing of Moshe Tamam as a violation of the Geneva Conventions’ absolute prohibition on violence to the life and person of armed forces members who have laid down their arms, including those in captivity.
There are many reasons to condemn the kidnapping and killing at the core of the case, but what Amnesty International stated is so misleading that it crossed the line into misinformation.
In law, a misleading statement is just another type of false statement.
Based on Amnesty International’s condemnation at the end of the press release, someone unfamiliar with the case is likely to think that Moshe Tamam had surrendered or put his arms up while confronting enemy forces during a battle, or at least that he had been on some sort of patrol as a soldier.
The reality is that Moshe Tamam was a 19-year-old on vacation. He was traveling across the country after visiting his girlfriend and was kidnapped while hitchhiking from a bus station.
Amnesty International did not even condemn Moshe Tamam’s kidnapping or the broader circumstances, including that he seems to have been singled out on the basis of his Jewish identity.
Especially in northern Israel, it is common to see Druze and Circassian young men on leave from their army service. However, a Jew was specifically chosen.
And ultimately, he was not murdered after laying down arms, as Amnesty suggests. He was murdered simply because Walid Daqqah and his collaborators did not want to deal with the inconvenience of letting him live, after their original idea of trafficking him seemed too difficult, and they ruled out just releasing him alive.
It shocks the conscience.
Amnesty International could have mentioned the grisly, hateful aspects of the case — or any details at all — to emphasize that even for such crimes, compassionate release should never be politicized.
Instead, Amnesty editorialized away any aspect that would have happened to cultivate sympathy for Jewish people.
That omission by Amnesty actually imperils advocacy for compassionate release, because it leans into the falsity that such advocates always have something to hide.
A person last
Walid Daqqah, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested in March 1986. A year later, a military court convicted him of commanding a group affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which had abducted and killed Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.
In this sentence, Walid Daqqah is individualized — he is a name first, then an identity, and finally a citizen. On the other hand, the Jewish person is simply “Israeli solder Moshe Tamam” — mentioned last, and a person last.
The variation in language does not amount to a distinction without a difference. It is an example of dehumanizing language against Jewish people.
Also, not to sound repetitive, but again: Moshe Tamam was not on duty as a soldier when he was kidnapped and murdered. He was hitchhiking from a bus station, on leave from his conscription.
Describing Moshe first and foremost as a soldier, and invoking the issue of whether he “laid down his arms” makes me wonder: Where is Amnesty International shifting the line on murdering Jewish people? And as the line moves, how does that look for me in five years, or in ten years, or for my children?
Hate speech is obviously harmful. But unfairness that is kept between the lines, if done regularly, can be just as harmful.
Where antisemitism and anti-Arab racism overlap
Antisemitism seems to have served as a propellant for Amnesty’s misinformation. However, anti-Arab racism also appears to have been a major problem.
Amnesty International has a sprawling, global bureaucracy with thousands of staffers. Its regional directors have calendars full of meetings, deciding which issues to move forward with urgent press releases.
It is startling that Palestinian civil society did not make the cut.
The last several weeks, Palestinian Arab activists such as Ghadir Hani, an Arab citizen of Israel, have been organizing ongoing protests that focus on inequalities facing Arab communities. Thousands of Arab and non-Arab citizens of Israel have come together at these events.
For the Arab demonstrators, the issues are urgent, and go beyond infrastructure, permitting, and education. Basic security is at stake. As Israeli police have slowed or stopped responding to emergency calls from Arab callers over the last several years, a security vacuum has worsened in Arab localities.
This year alone, over 150 Arab citizens have been murdered. Over the same time period, this is nearly the same number of Arab fatalities from conflict and terrorism.
This is where antisemitism and anti-Arab racism seem to overlap. Firstly, the issue is “just Arabs” suffering and, secondly, no Jewish people are involved. When this happens, governmental and international organizations like Amnesty tend to find other issues to cover, such as Walid Daqqah’s individual casework.
Of course, when Amnesty decided to put Walid Daqqah’s compassionate release on equal footing with the issues of the entire world, this decision was not necessarily at the expense of eventually working on a press release about the Arab protests or any other issues.
But what is technically correct in theory, is not what is happening in practice. Examples of hyper-focused, individualized attention from Amnesty can repeatedly be contrasted with its sector-wide blind spots. This speaks to severe institutional dysfunction, and a work environment where people are afraid to challenge authority.
Thinking about such a dysfunctional environment, Amnesty’s thousands of employees seem to transmit the prejudices of the broader world into their work— not necessarily any more, nor any less, but without effective guardrails. In this case, it makes more sense why Amnesty’s work not only punches down on Jews, but also punches down on Arabs.
The name of Moshe Tamam was mentioned only twice in a press release that dealt so much with the sentencing around his murder.
Both of these mentions came under a section titled “Punitive solitary confinement” — at the very end of the press release.
In a very literal sense, Amnesty International placed the murder of a Jewish person lower than the confinement of a non-Jewish person.
While much of the press release gave exact dates, Moshe’s kidnapping and murder was only mentioned by the year. Coincidentally, the press release demanding Walid’s release was issued August 16th, just a few days after the anniversary of his victim’s death. Moshe had been kidnapped on August 6th, murdered and left in an orchard on August 8th, and was found on August 10th.
Amnesty International did not specify how long Walid Daqqah was in solitary confinement, only clarifying it happened twice. According to other organizations, it was approximately one month each times. (Both times for smuggling.) However, Amnesty did use the words “punitive” and “cruel” twice, omitting important detail but being highly suggestive.
The name of Moshe Tamam, or any other information at all about the case, was only mentioned towards the very end of Amnesty’s press release.
Abruptly, the press release then pivoted to describing Walid Daqqah’s prolific career as an essayist from behind bars, alluding his celebrity status since being arrested by the State of Israel, and quoting his family as saying, “time is a luxury we won’t have.”
The rhyming pattern
At the top of Amnesty International’s press release is a full-screen photo of the aging Walid Daqqah. He is shown with graying hair and a graying mustache, with a beaming smile and twinkling eyes. He is giving a peace sign to the camera with his right hand.
My thoughts dart from Walid’s peace sign, to Moshe’s dying moments. Walid Daqqah and his collaborators could have followed through with their plan to smuggle Moshe Tamam to the Syrian Arab Republic, or they could have simply released him when they felt it was too risky.
Instead, they felt the life of a Jewish person was not worth their inconvenience as non-Jewish people.
Such profound entitlement does not stem from righteous anger. Instead, it comes from the same type of prejudice that has chased Jewish people in the region for centuries, and which continues to fuel much of the present conflict in the State of Israel.
Next, my mind jumps to a Mondoweiss article where Walid is quoted as saying, “We create life and Israel is creating death.”
I think about that for a moment.
Some people surely have read his quote and felt it had a profound, revolutionary quality. I guess its supposed candor was why Mariam Barghouti, the author of the article, chose to curate it for inclusion.
I am left wondering about my own safety. As a visibly Jewish person in the United States, my safety hinges on what proportion of people might admire Walid Daqqah’s quote in spite of, rather than because of, his role in kidnapping and murdering a Jewish person trying to catch a ride. I wonder if there is even much of a difference.
I turn back to the Amnesty International report.
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
The establishment of ghettos for Jews in the Christian and Islamic worlds; the ceaseless delegitimization of Jews having a seat alongside Arabs, Christians, Muslims, and others at the United Nations; the senseless murder of Moshe Tamam just because it was more convenient to kill him; Walid’s callousness to his victim in the decades since then; and Amnesty International’s profoundly unequal language on Walid, compared to his victim…
There is a consistent rhyming pattern in all of these things: a Jew’s life, or even a Jew’s death, must never be allowed to get in the way of a non-Jew’s aspirations.