For Palestinian Prisoners, Fathering Children Is an Act of Resistance
Denied conjugal visits, Palestinian inmates are adopting creative tactics to continue their bloodlines.
There are between 6,000 and 7,000 Palestinians—classified as "security prisoners"—serving time in Israeli prisons. Israel detains them if their alleged or convicted offenses are deemed threats, or potential threats, to national security. Denied conjugal visits, these Palestinian prisoners see their immediate family for just 45 minutes every two weeks, if at all. While kept physically separated from visiting spouses and adults, inmates can play with their children for ten minutes at the end of each session. During these short visitations, some of the men have smuggled sperm to their wives in order to conceive children through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Until April 2013, religious authorities in Palestine had not clarified their position on IVF. Over time, however, things changed, and the procedure is now accepted in specific circumstances. Issuing a religious edict in April 2013, the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council detailed the restrictions, limiting the process to those men with a long sentence, a marriage consummated before imprisonment, and no other way for pregnancy. The husband and wife also need to fill out paperwork, and families are expected to provide multiple witnesses confirming that the sample belongs to the man. As a result, a greater degree of openness now exists for those who have had children in this manner.
Now, fertility clinics in the occupied territories increasingly offer IVF treatment to prisoners' wives free of charge. The Razan fertility clinic in Nablus and the al Basma fertility clinic in Gaza have frozen numerous sperm samples recently smuggled from behind bars. In the past four years, an estimated 40 babies have been born through IVF to the wives of Palestinian inmates.
Lydia Rimawi told me that she and other women in the program believe that one day the prisoners will be released, and when they do return home, they should have a family waiting for them. Combined with what she described as a cultural belief that wives are not able to cope with everyday life alone, this notion encourages them to take such measures to become pregnant. She felt that becoming pregnant while her husband was imprisoned would help continue the Palestinian resistance.