Palestinian protesters wave their national flag outside of an Israeli prison.
(photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Ali Mohammed Al-Qaisi, a Palestinian prisoner serving 21 years for security offenses in an Israeli prison, became a father for the third time — even though he has not seen his wife, Haifa, for a year. She gave birth to a boy, Ghaith, using Ali's sperm, which was smuggled out of the prison.
After a wife manages to obtain the sperm, she delivers it to the Razan Fertility Center in Nablus, which pioneered in vitro fertilization treatment in the West Bank.
Gaith is reportedly the 63rd Palestinian child born in this manner.
Haifa, 38, explained to The Media Line that it was her husband’s idea and that he convinced his son, Majd, 15, and daughter, Ghada, 17, of the merits of the plan. “I wasn’t so sure about it at the beginning, but then my children kept nagging and they convinced me,” she revealed. “At first I was so afraid to be judged — my husband is in jail and I’m pregnant, but when I announced that I was having a baby with smuggled sperm, everyone was happy and congratulated me and that gave me a huge boost.”
Al-Qaisi considers the birth of her son a triumph. “The [Israeli] prison administration banned me from seeing my husband for three years, and then they allowed me to see him once every two years, now I see him once every year. This baby is our victory.”
As per Majd, he expressed his enthusiasm to The Media Line. “I can’t even describe how I feel, I wished all my life to have a brother and now this has come true.”
Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Authority Prisoner Affairs Minister, asserted that the phenomenon is a great hope for jailed Palestinians. “It’s a revolution, so many prisoners have succeeded in smuggling sperm and becoming fathers,” he told The Media Line. “They strive to maintain families and this is a great challenge taking into account the harsh reality inside Israeli prisons.”
Qaraqe sees the trend, which began in 2003, as a way to create an alternative reality for Palestinian prisoners away from the painful one “imposed by the Israelis, who relate to them as if they don’t deserve to be happy or continue in life.” He pointed out that if the Israeli authorities would catch a prisoner smuggling sperm, both the prisoner and his family would be punished.
“The prisoner’s family won’t be able to see him for a long time.”
When questioned about the practice, Hana Herbst, an Israel Prison Service (IPS) spokesperson, told to The Media Line that the IPS checks every object entering or exiting prisons. “Any illegal smuggling attempts are dealt with by disciplinary or administrative means,” she affirmed.
Mohammed Al-Qarawi, 33, revealed that his brother Ra’fat — who is serving fifteen years at Israel’s al-Naqab prison for shooting Jewish residents of the West Bank —used smuggled sperm to father a child named Amer in 2013. “Ra’fat’s wife had a miscarriage three times when her husband was escaping from Israeli forces, who broke into the house more than once and each time she lost a baby,” he told The Media Line. “After he was imprisoned, my brother heard about the ability to smuggle his sperm and asked us to start preparing all the documents as he didn’t want his wife to be childless.”
Al-Qawari admitted that his family smuggled the sperm out of jail in a cookie box. “The first time it didn’t work, but the second time it did. I can’t even describe the mixed feelings I had when I first saw Amer, I almost cried.”
He said that when Israeli authorities found out Ra’fat was banned from seeing Amer for almost a year and a half. “They wanted to have a DNA test done to confirm if the baby was indeed my brother’s but he refused and the matter went away.”
To avoid any social backlash, the Razan center requires two relatives from both the wife’s and husband’s sides to sign papers stating the name of the father.
Wives gained support for the procedure after the Palestinian Authority’s religious council decreed the IVF treatment permissible for the wives of prisoners. Razan provides the procedure — which costs about $3,000 — free of charge for prisoners’ spouses.