Forced to Break the Law After Incarceration: Sperm Smuggling in Palestine

Forty days after the birth of his first child, Fahmi abu Salah was arrested by Israeli forces, and sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. Several years later, baby Asaad was born to Fahmi abu Salah and May abu Salah in Palestine’s West Bank. Baby Asaad is one of numerous children born to Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli jails. Since the outbreak of the Israel-Palestine crisis, Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces regularly, often on weightless charges, and then sentenced to serve up to forty or more years in Israeli prisons, which are all, bereft one, in Israeli borders, a violation of humanitarian law, as reported by Vice News. There are currently more than 6,000 Palestinians incarcerated in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Al Jazeera reports, 1,000 of them serving sentences longer than twenty years. Aside from the numerous abuses these individuals face within the jails, to which Assad abu Salah—father of Fahmi abu Salah and a former prisoner, jailed with his two sons—states, “The Israelis lock us up in detention cages made of metal or concrete. They want us to die”, Palestinian prisoners are refused the right to conjugal visits. This is in contrast to the conditions for Israeli prisoners jailed under similar, or more serious circumstances, which are negotiated on a one-to-one basis, Vice reports. For instance, Israeli citizen Yigal Amir—who is currently serving a life sentence for the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—was allowed to continue his family by way of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Haaretz reports that when this subject, regarding access to IVF for prisoners, was brought to the Israeli Supreme Court, the Court failed to make a decision, and granted the prison authorities the right to decide, consequently backtracking the Palestinian prisoners’ progress.

Mothers of Palestinian children born—from smuggled sperm—to Palestinian prisoners. Source: Getty.

In 2004, after sixteen years in prison, seventeen years of marriage, and sixteen years apart, Rawhi Mushtaha had the idea to smuggle his sperm out of prison, so that he and his wife could have children. From 2012, when the first child was born to a Palestinian prisoner from smuggled sperm, to 2015, twenty-seven wives have given birth to thirty-two children using smuggled sperm. Large numbers of Palestinian families face this dangerous and illegal decision, such as Rawhi Mushtaha and Raeda Mushtaha, who were married on 21 August 1987. Six months later, on 13 February 1988, Mushtaha was arrested as a Palestinian ‘security prisoner’, referred to because of their perceived threat to Israel’s security. Raeda Mushtaha’s first visit to her husband in prison was allowed five months after his detainment, and even then the visit was only conversational. Similarly, on 26 September 2002, Ashraf al-Safadi married Fathia al-Safadi. Eighteen days later, Safadi was imprisoned, and sentenced to twenty-one years in jail. Likewise, on 18 August 2006, Tamer al-Zaanin married Hanaa al-Zaanin. Tamer al-Zaanin was detained two months later, and sentenced to twelve years in jail, all documented by Al Jazeera.

Brother (Asaad) and sister holding images of their imprisoned father (Fahmi abu Salah), whom the son has never met, at a protest for imprisoned Palestinians. Source: Getty.

The Razan Fertility Center, in Nablus, which is credited with implementing the first IVF treatments in the West Bank, according to J Post, is the most common site of refuge for the prisoner’s smuggled sperm. The Center also provides the IVF procedure, which typically costs $3,000, for free for prisoners’ families. However, these families, although supported by places such as the Razan Center and the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council—which approved the IVF procedure in 2013—not only face considerable challenges to the birth of their children, such as the length of possible prison sentences, and treatment within jail, but they also face challenges after their children’s births.

Baby Asaad holding photo of his father (Fahmi abu Salah), whom he has never met, and his grandmother (Muna abu Salah). Source: Getty.

In order to visit a Palestinian security prisoner, families or individuals, are required to apply for a permit obtained from Israel, by way of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These permits are only allowed for first degree relatives, and Israel commonly rejects applications on claims of security threats. When Muna abu Salah and Asaad abu Salah tried to take their granddaughter to meet her father for the first time, after applying for permits and waiting years, the border crossing was closed, and the guard told them there were no visits. Similarly, Asaad abu Salah applied for his grandson, to visit his father Fahmi abu Salah in prison, and was denied. “They [the Red Cross] said that this child was illegitimate and unrecognised by the Israeli occupation and prisons authority.” Because these children are born from smuggled sperm, they are prohibited from obtaining ID cards, and as a result, are considered illegal by the Israeli government. Abu Salah continues explaining, tears streaming down his face, “If the occupation continues, these children will not be registered in Gaza’s civil records and will be banned from traveling. They’ll remain without any documents to prove their identities. They’re unrecognised by the authorities, as if they don’t exist.” Palestinian families risk their lives and freedoms to continue their families, then suffer from not being allowed to see them, and further struggle with children who are considered illegitimate by the state that some Palestinians believe is illegitimate itself. To help this issue, the international community—too few major human rights organizations have produced studies or information on this subject—needs to become aware of the abuses that Palestinian families are suffering from, by first sharing the information.

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