Wednesday 18 September 2019

Palestinian men are smuggling sperm out of jail to 'continue life'

Protest: A woman holds a Palestinian flag at the Israel-Gaza border. Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mus/Reuters
Protest: A woman holds a Palestinian flag at the Israel-Gaza border. Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mus/Reuters

Raf Sanchez

Five-year-old Amir's life began inside a foil bag of hazelnut wafer biscuits.

The boy's father, Ashraf, is one of around 6,000 Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails. On June 20, 2013, Amir's mother, Fathiya, went to see her husband in prison.

During their brief visit, Ashraf gave his wife the bag of biscuits and whispered to her that inside was an eye dropper he had filled with semen.

"Go straight to the hospital," he told her, "and use this so we can have a child."

"I was very nervous," Ashraf said in a phone call from prison. "I thought the Israelis would find it. And I was worried about my family. I didn't want to put them through another cycle of expectation and fear."

Fathiya followed her husband's instructions and took several buses on the two-hour journey from Meggido Prison to a hospital in Nablus, in the north of the occupied West Bank. It took doctors 15 minutes of testing to tell her that Ashraf's sperm had survived the bus journey. Nine months later, their son was born.

Fathiya still keeps the foil bag of hazelnut wafers where his life began. Amir is one of 69 Palestinian children born to prisoner fathers who smuggled their semen out of jail in recent years, according to the Razan Centre for Infertility, a clinic that deals with the pregnancies.

The trend has led to feats of ingenuity by prisoners to get their sperm out without detection by Israeli prison guards.

Inmates have hidden their semen in lighters, ballpoint pens, and even a plastic vial concealed inside a date.

But the process has also challenged Palestinians' conservative and religious society, where many are wary of insemination technology and the idea of women becoming pregnant without their husbands present.

And while each birth is celebrated as a small act of resistance against Israel, the children often face complicated lives as fathers spend years or even a lifetime in Israeli prisons.

The most common way of getting the semen out is for a prisoner to give it to a fellow inmate when he is released.

When the inmate packs up his belongings in his cell, he hides the sperm container and then takes it directly to a hospital to be frozen.

"Sperm is surprisingly resilient," said Dr Ghassoun Badran, a specialist at the Razan Centre. She said that sperm can stay good for 12 hours or more while it is smuggled from prison to the hospital. Around 60pc of samples they get from prison survive.

The greatest danger to the sperm is that it is carried in a dirty container, like a lighter that was not properly cleaned.

"Sometimes the samples are in bad condition because it has travelled a long time using a non-sterile technique," Dr Badran said.

A normal sample can be frozen and divided into three or four sub-samples, meaning the prisoner's wife has several chances to get pregnant if the insemination does not work the first time.

Huda al-Wawy (40) has a one-year-old daughter born with smuggled sperm and is now pregnant again by the same method. Both times one of her husband's fellow prisoners brought the semen out after being released.

"I was so thankful for them. If the soldiers caught them, they could have faced more years in prison," she said.

Huda's husband, a Hamas militant, is serving a life sentence for killing an Israeli soldier. He has only seen his daughter, Ala'aa, once during a prison visit and may never be free to see her outside jail.

"According to our tradition, having babies is important," said Huda. "This is a way of continuing life despite the occupation."

One of the biggest concerns for a prisoner's wife as she thinks about insemination is that neighbours will get suspicious if she suddenly becomes pregnant while her husband is in jail.

Rumours of infidelity could be fatal for a Palestinian woman in a society where honour killings still occur. "I was very nervous," said Fathiya, the wife of Ashraf.

"I couldn't imagine what people's reaction would be when they saw I'm pregnant." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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