Right to Family: the Palestinian Prisoners Smuggling Sperm to their Wives

By Arwa Hleihel
“Parallel time” became a well-known phrase in the Palestinian political prisoners’ culture, following Walid Daka’s play based on his experience in jail. The play is about prisoners’ time parallel to the time of people at liberty: in jail nothing moves and there is no meaning to time unless it intersects with real time, such as the few occasions when family or lawyers visit.

Since 1967 more than 800,000 Palestinians have experienced incarceration in Israeli jails, mainly after being tried in Israeli military courts specifically created to “make justice” in the occupied territories. While Palestinians perceive Palestinian prisoners as freedom fighters, Israel classifies them as “security prisoners,” and by this classification, and due to the assumption of danger, the Israeli Prison service deprives them of privileges granted to other prisoners held in Israeli service incarnation facilities, without distinction between adults, juveniles or administrative detainees. Palestinian prisoners have even been deprived of telephone contact with their families.[1]  Even if the families get once monthly permission to enter Israel and visit the prisoners they usually wake as early as 4 am, prepare for a long and difficult journey, travel for about three hours each-way, pass inconvenient security checks at Israeli checkpoints, all to meet the prisoner from behind a glass barrier for only 45 minutes (visits used to be twice a month, but the International Red Cross Committee reduced the visits to once a month in the last two years due to budget issues).

“The Israeli Prison service deprives them of privileges granted to other prisoners held in Israeli service incarnation facilities.”

As of October 2018, according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainees, there are approximately 6000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, 52 women, 270 children and 430 administrative detainees. 1084 prisoners are sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.  Common footage televised in the Palestinian media follows the release of Palestinian prisoners. When their parallel time finally merges with real time, the relatively lucky newly released prisoners can be seen hugging their parents, so much older in real time, while the less fortunate ones pay tribute to their parents’ graves and, if married, find their wives waiting for them, and their children, the anchors to life and hope for the future.

Another problem is that Palestinian prisoners are not allowed conjugal visits with their wives. This results in prisoners’ wives growing old while waiting for their imprisoned husbands to get released which means, during their husband’s incarceration, they become incapable of becoming pregnant. This also restricts the rights of the prisoners themselves, who are released to an anchorless life of freedom deprived of the right to family.

In contrast, the right to give birth and parenthood for Israeli Jews classified as security prisoners was acknowledged by the Israeli High Court of Justice, which granted conjugal visits. The same court overturned the Israeli prison service’s decision not to allow taking a sample of sperm from an Israeli Jewish security prisoner for the purpose of inseminating his wife.

“In contrast, the right to parenthood for Israeli Jews is acknowledged by the Israeli High Court of Justice.”

The decision stated that jail walls do not separate prisoners from their human dignity, and that the right to family is in the upper hierarchy of constitutional rights protected by basic law. It referred to international human rights law, such as right to family (article 23, ICCPR), protection from arbitrary interference in family life (article 17(1) of the ICCPR), article 5 of the UDHR, articles 7 and 10(1) and UN and European minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, providing that prisoners shall retain their rights according to the UDHR and the ICCPR such as the right to family.

One may wonder, if it so clear to the Israeli High Court that the deprivation of liberty does not deprive the prisoner of his fundamental right to family, why do Palestinian prisoners have to smuggle sperm from jail to their wives in the parallel real time in order to allow the right to family for both of them once released?

On 26th November 2018, the 68th child of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail was born from smuggled sperm from jail used to inseminate the prisoner’s wife. “Ayed” is the second child born this way to his mother. His father is sentenced to 27 years in an Israeli jail. In 2011, the prisoners who were getting old in jail, who dreamed of family as their wives’ aspirations of motherhood faded, decided to act.[2] The first child born through a smuggled sperm insemination was in August 2012, and since then 67 additional children were born the same way to mothers in the West Bank and Gaza, proving that some rights are too strong and too fundamental to be deprived even by imprisonment.

Sperm is smuggled from the prisoners’ parallel time, to the wives trapped on the border between the prison time and real time, children are born and they are the prisoners anchor in life.

Firas Roby has produced a silent film tackling these issues and the struggle of Palestinian prisoners.

Illustration by Ilham Almougheith, the wife of a former prisoner. She resides in France. with their son Mahmoud who was born while her husband was in prison. Mahmoud and his father have never met because the Israeli authorities forbid him from leaving the West Bank.

[1] Only immediate family members can visit prisoners: spouses, parents, brothers and children. As of today, grandchildren are not allowed to visit their grandparents.

[2] See the Palestinian Commission of Detainees

Arwa has an LLM from Haifa University in Israel. Since 2006 she has been litigating in criminal and administrative law and over the last three years she has been representing Palestinian prisoners. These remain as her primary areas of interest.