Khaled Abu Aker
The New York Times
February 7, 2013 - 1:00am


Palestinian fertility doctor said Thursday that he was helping about 50 women conceive children using sperm smuggled out of Israeli prisons, that four of the women were now pregnant after in vitro fertilization, and that one delivered a boy last summer, named Muhannad.

“This issue is human, not political,” the doctor, Salem Abu Khaizaran, said in an interview. “I was glad I was able to help the wives to regain hope.”

Dr. Khaizaran, director of the Razan Center for Infertility in Nablus, West Bank, said the August birth of Muhannad — whose father, Ammar al-Zaben, is serving 32 life sentences for Jerusalem bombings that killed 27 Israelis — was like “my own first baby is being born.”

About 4,500 Palestinians are in Israeli jails. Sivan Weizman, a prison spokeswoman, said they are not only denied conjugal visits, but generally are separated from visitors by glass panels. Only children under 8 are allowed to hug their fathers. Ms. Weizman said sperm was not specifically mentioned in the rules outlawing the removal of items from the prison, but that nobody had asked permission to conduct such a transfer.

In any case, she cast doubt on Dr. Khaizaran’s claim, questioning whether sperm would survive the long treks most visitors make to and from the prisons.

But Muhannad’s mother, Dalal, who is 31 and has two teenage daughters, said that Maythaloun, the West Bank village where she lives, celebrated when she had the baby, and that her husband’s fellow prisoners cheered when she brought the child to visit. “I am proud that I pave the road for the wives of the prisoners,” she said.

Prisoners have an important role in Palestinian society, with even those convicted of murder often upheld as heroes of resistance against Israel.

Dr. Khaizaran said he decided to embark on his unusual fertility experiment because by the time inmates with long sentences are released, their wives are often too old to bear children, leading them to marry younger women. He said he received a fatwa, or legal ruling, from a Muslim cleric permitting the procedure, which he does free of charge.

Neither the doctor nor several women interviewed would reveal details of how the sperm was smuggled out.

Lidya Rimawi, 35, said she will be over 50 when her husband, Abdul Karim Rimawi, is freed from the 25-year-sentence he received for participating in the 2001 killing of Israel’s minister of tourism, Rehavam Ze’evi. She said she is four months pregnant.

“I am receiving daily calls to congratulate me; many wives of prisoners are calling to ask for advice,” said Ms. Rimawi, who has a 12-year-old daughter who was born shortly after her husband’s incarceration. When her mother-in-law told Ms. Rimawi’s husband of the pregnancy during a prison visit, Ms. Rimawi said, “he started shouting, expressing joy.


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