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The Wait for Her Habibi

Palestinian prisoners’ wives turn to sperm smuggling in order to conceive children through IVF. 

Their husbands are serving long-term sentences in Israeli jails. Over the past three years, more than 60 babies have been born this way.

There are around 7,000 Palestinians, classified as “security prisoners”, facing sentences of 25 years or more. Israel detains them if their alleged or convicted offenses are deemed threats, or potential threats, to national security.

Signs of a life suspended at Iman Al Barghouti’s home. Her husband, Nael Al Barghouti, has spent 38 years in prison. He was arrested on 4 April 1978 after carrying out a commando operation. He was released in in 2011 but he has been arrested again and sentenced to a life imprisonment.

Palestine, Bethlehem. A tent at Hanadi’s home (32), she had twins born through IVF. Her husband was sentenced to 18 life sentences.

Bethlehem, Palestine. Manal Assaf (32) is the wife of Imad (37). Imad was sentenced to 25 years

Conjugal visits are denied and Palestinian prisoners see their immediate family for just 45 minutes every two weeks, if at all. After a thorough body search, visitors are able to talk to their loved ones through a telephone from behind a glass window. Physical contact is forbidden, except for prisoners’ children, who are allowed 10 minutes at the end of each visit to embrace their fathers.

During these short visitations, some of the prisoners have smuggled sperm to their kids. With the excuse of giving gifts to their children, the prisoners put their seminal fluid into empty pen tubes and hide them inside chocolate bars. This is the secret way prisoners’ sperm manages to leave the prisons, and is these women’s only hope for a family.

Palestine, Bethlehem. Prisoners store seminal fluid inside tubes or old pens, which they hide inside snacks. During the 10 minutes of permitted playtime, they pass the snacks to their children, practicing one of the methods used to smuggle their sperm out of prison.

Fertility clinics in the occupied territories increasingly offer IVF treatment to prisoners’ wives free of charge. The Razan fertility clinic in Nablus and the al Basma fertility clinic in Gaza have frozen numerous sperm samples recently smuggled from behind bars.

Nablus, Palestine. Remah Bauod (39) with her sister and her daughter Racha, born a few hours before, in a room at “Razan” fertility clinic in Nablus. Her husband, Usama Bauod (41), was jailed for 4 life sentences plus 50 years.

Left: Hebron, Palestine. A picnic of Nabeel Masalwa (47) family, his wife, brothers and son, on the mountains of Hebron. His wife Samaher (40) had a new baby called Kareem (2) born through Ivf. Nabeel was sentences to 23 years in jail. Right: Palestine, Jericho. The long journey through the desert to reach the prison.

Women in the IVF program believe that one day the prisoners will be released, and when they do return home, they should have a family waiting for them.

Ramallah, Palestine. Lydia Rimawi (38) with her two-year-old son, Majd, who was born through IVF, during the trip to reach the prison the day of the visit to her husband. She lives in West Bank village of Beit Rima, her village rests between Ramallah and Nablus. She leaves home at 5am, taking a taxi to the main road, where she boards a bus to Ramallah. She goes on a second bus, organized by the Red Cross in partnership with the Prisoners Club, to the Israeli border, where she crosses on foot. From the border, she rides a third bus to the prison. Lydia’s husband, AbdelKarim (44), has been arrested since June 2001 and sentenced to 25 years.

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