Middle East

Palestinians born 'from prisoners' smuggled sperm'

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Media captionThe BBC's Jon Donnison: "Nobody is giving too much away about how they are getting the sperm out"

Just a few seconds old, but already strong of voice, Muhannad Ziben did not sound best pleased as a midwife, gripping him by the ankle, hoisted him above his mother and snipped the umbilical chord.

He was born in Nablus's al-Arabia hospital in August last year.

Within a few hours he looked more comfortable, snoozing in the arms of his mother Dallal. The father though was absent.

Ammar Ziben is serving 32 life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement in bomb attacks in Jerusalem in 1997.

Dallal says she was able to get pregnant using her husband's sperm, which was smuggled out from inside the jail.

"Muhannad is a gift from God," Dallal told the BBC at the time. "But my happiness is not complete without my husband here beside me."

Dallal's case received widespread media attention.

Since then, the BBC has spoken to two fertility doctors in the West Bank who say there are now around 10 Palestinian women who have become pregnant using sperm smuggled out of Israeli jails.

"Honestly, I don't know how they do it and I don't want to know how they do it," says Dr Salem Abu Khaizaran, one of the fertility doctors who has been helping the women.

"I don't want to get into the politics. I am doing it for humanitarian reasons only, just to help these women. Everyone gives a lot of attention to the prisoners, but these women really suffer a lot."

Spreading the word

The doctor says the women bring the sperm to his clinic in anything from small bottles to plastic cups.

Dr Abu Khaizaran says, in ideal conditions, sperm can survive for up to 48 hours before it is frozen in order to carry out IVF treatment.

Usually he says the women can deliver it in much less time than that but sometimes the sperm does not arrive in good enough condition and the women are told they must try again.

The clinic is reluctant to give the treatment to women who already have a lot of children or whose husbands are serving only short sentences.

Before IVF can go ahead the doctor asks to see two members of both the husband and wife's families who can testify that the sperm is genuine.

The women are also advised to spread the word about what they are preparing to do.

"When the entire village know a woman' husband has been in prison for 10 or 15 years we don't want her to be suddenly walking down the street pregnant," says Dr Abu Khaizaran.

"We advise the woman to go back to her village and tell everyone that she has a sample from her husband and that she is planning to do IVF in a few months."

He says this way it avoids gossip suggesting a woman might have been cheating on her husband while he is been behind bars.

Tight security

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) has expressed scepticism about the smuggling claims.

"One can't say it did not happen. However, it's hard to believe it could happen because of the tight security measures being taken during the security prisoners' meetings with their relatives and in general," said Prison Authority spokesperson Sivan Weizman in a written statement.

Image caption Dallal said her son, born from smuggled sperm, was a 'gift from God'

She pointed out that there is no physical contact between security prisoners and their families, except for the last 10 minutes of the visit, during which the prisoner's children, if they are under the age of eight, are allowed access to their father.

Unlike some Israeli prisoners, Palestinians who are jailed for what Israel calls security offences are not allowed conjugal visits where they can be intimate with their partners.

The IPS could not say whether any Palestinians jailed for criminal offences had ever been granted such visits.

"Israeli prisoners get a lot of rights. They are allowed out of prison for homes visits. They are able to be with their wives," says Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisons Issa Qaraqa.

He adds that Yigal Amir, the Israeli extremist who was jailed for life for murdering the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, was allowed to get married and have conjugal visits resulting in the birth of a son in 2007.

Dr Abu Khaizaran believes Palestinians should be given the same rights. He says until that happens, Palestinian prisoners will likely continue to try and smuggle sperm out of jail for their wives.

A number of the doctor's clients are expected to give birth this spring.