Palestine’s Not-So-Immaculate Conceptions: What’s Behind a West Bank Baby Boom

With thousands of Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons and barred from conjugal visits, families have resorted to secret measures to produce new offspring

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Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images

A view of Israeli Ayalon prison in Ramla near Tel Aviv in 2013

Leedia Rimawi was on her way to work when the radio on the minibus broadcast the news: a Palestinian woman had given birth to a child conceived by sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where her husband was held. “Everyone in the bus realized I was crying,” Rimawi recalls. None had to ask why. “Everyone knows that I’m the wife of a prisoner.”

Eleven months later, Rimawi became the second Palestinian woman to bear a child by an imprisoned husband. She was followed by five other West Bank women; another 16 are pregnant. An unlikely mode of reproduction that began as newsworthy is growing nearly routine: in a storage tank cooled by liquid nitrogen to –196°C, a Ramallah clinic has 65 sperm samples awaiting implantation in wives who have not been allowed to touch their husbands for years.

“For one thing, we wanted a bigger family,” Rimawi says, explaining the decision to conceive by combining stealth and science. “But also, the Israelis imprisoned him to eliminate him from Palestinian society. We wanted to show that even though you took him away from us for a very long time, we were able to do this. It’s a political achievement.”

It may be. In-vitro fertilization from behind bars niftily combines the two central approaches available to Palestinians in their contest with Israel: resistance and demography. Numerous experts calculate that if current birth rates continue, Palestinians will outnumber Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — the land both sides claim — in the next 20 years, 30 at most. The numbers presumably would force Israel to choose between dividing the disputed land or bearing the stigma of governing as a minority.

(MORE: Why the Palestinian Prisoner Release Mattered)

“Faisal Husseini used to tell the Israelis: You have the nuclear bomb, and we have the biological bomb,” says Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoners’ association, quoting a former Palestinian leader. He notes that rules for Israeli prisoners are far more humane: Yigal Amir, the Jewish settler who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, got married and fathered a child in an officially sanctioned conjugal visit while in prison. “We wish the Israelis would accept this [conception] procedure,” he says.

Because at bottom, the story is a human one.

“Really, it’s for these poor women,” says Dr. Salem Abu Khaizaran, president of the Razan Medical Center, which offers the in-vitro-fertilization, or IVF, procedure at no charge to the wives of prisoners. Khaizaran sees that the women live their entire lives like Rimawi on the minibus, their private business open to a watching world. Though a handful have divorced their imprisoned husbands rather than wait, the overwhelming majority accede to the societal expectation that they endure his sentence too, whatever the cost.

Leedia and Abdel Karim Rimawi had been married less than two years when he was arrested for wounding an Israeli by gunfire in 2001, early in the armed Palestinian uprising known as the second intifadeh. Their daughter, Rand, was 8 months old. But the prospects of a second child were grim. Husband and wife were both 24 when Abdel Karim received his sentence: 25 years. If he served it all, Leedia would be almost 50 when he was released, too old to bear children.

And what if the husband insists? Khaizaran says he takes motivation from the painful example of a man released, along with 1,026 other Palestinians, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier held five years by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. When the newly freed Palestinian learned the wife who had waited for him was too old to conceive, he simply married another, bringing a younger woman into the house of the one who had waited for him. “So the woman really pays the price twice,” Khaizaran says.

(MORE: Gilad Shalit Release: Israel’s Joy Tempered by Memories of an Intifadeh)

Leedia began consulting relatives — something the Razan clinic insists upon. It’s crucial that everyone knows in advance how it is that the wife of an imprisoned man is beginning to show. Leedia says relatives, including Rand, now 12, were overwhelmingly in favor. That turns out to be typical, says a surprised Khaizaran, who expected resistance in a society as traditional as the West Bank. “To my astonishment, the community is supporting it without reservation,” he says.

He credits the exalted role prisoners hold in Palestinian society. Currently some 4,700 are in jailed in Israel. But since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory began in 1967, about 800,000 Palestinian men have spent time in custody. Labeled terrorists in the Hebrew press, they are the default heroes of their own community, sacrificing years in the name of a national liberation movement.

“Every couple of days I have a phone call,” the doctor says.

No one speaks publicly about how the sperm makes it out of prison. The wives of prisoners are allowed to visit twice a month, for 45 minutes at a time. They can only speak by phone through a plexiglass wall. But there may be gaps in the physical barrier and, in any event, since an Israeli court decision years ago, children under the age of 8 are allowed through a side door and can sit on their father’s lap for 10 minutes. “I watch my husband hold my daughter,” says Leedia, with an understatement that captures the human ache of the interaction. Technically, the interlude also presents an opportunity for passing over a small packet, perhaps in a pocket.

Significantly, visitors usually are not searched as they leave an Israeli prison. “The main concern is smuggling in — weapons, drugs, cellular phones,” says prison-system spokesperson Sivan Weizman. She says no procedures have changed in response to the reports of sperm smuggling, which she considers only a rumor. “I don’t have any proof that it’s really happened,” she says.

(PHOTOS: West Bank Turmoil: An Unexpected Death Raises the Tension)

Once the sperm sample is in hand — typically in a plastic bag — it becomes a race against time. The bus ride to the West Bank is three and a half hours. Khaizaran says that while time is of the essence, most samples yield the minimum necessary — the single motile sperm a technician needs to fertilize an egg. When that’s found, the sample is frozen, and the wife begins taking hormone shots to stimulate ovulation. The sequence is the opposite of normal IVF, in which the fresh sperm sample is brought in after an egg harvest, but it comes to the same thing: a dish, an ovum, and a sperm carried down a tiny pipette. The fertilized egg (or eggs) is implanted in the uterus — three into Leedia. Fifteen days later, a pregnancy test showed that one had taken. On July 31, she gave birth to a boy. “I named him Majd.” The name means glorious.

The father has not seen the baby, however. When she brought the newborn to the prison near the Egyptian border, guards angrily insisted that they had no record of a son and turned her away. “So the prison asked for a DNA test, but I refused,” Leedia says. “We refused because there’s no trust between them and us, and they were the ones that wanted a test.” Instead, she found a lawyer and filed suit to have the baby added to the visitor’s list. The case will require a DNA test, of course, but on terms she trusts.

“I’ve had so many visits where I didn’t get to see him because he was being punished or transferred and I would leave there crying,” she says. “But this time I was denied the right to visit and I was happy, because I had Majd with me.

“We had a big gap, and Majd filled it up.”

33 comments
NunuvYerbizness
NunuvYerbizness

How much love those children must feel, conceived in hatred and raised to be a weapon.

NunuvYerbizness
NunuvYerbizness

"Labeled terrorists in the Hebrew press, they are the default heroes of their own community ..."   Very nice glowing descriptions. Better would be "Convicted as terrorists in Israeli courts for crimes including murder, many of their fellow Palestinians consider them heroes..." Time's choice of words adds a strong bias, not that I'm surprised.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

They may well ran short of babies in the Arab settlements of Judea and Samaria, but it has nothing to do with terrorists' imprisonment. If them the Arab settlers stopped using their own babies as human shields, they'd simultaneously achieve two goals: less fathers in jails, more alive children. Two birds by one stone, eh?

Yoshi
Yoshi

The "Palestinians" will resort to any tactic to conquer the Israelis. Yes, it could be done by numbers. Terrible price those "numbers" will pay, though. Of course, they strap bombs onto their children to advance their "cause" as well. This should be nothing new.

SteveGorila
SteveGorila

not to squash their joy but the likelihood of it actually being their husbands sperm and not that of some prison guard seems small

fixmdude
fixmdude

70% of Israelis are not from "Europe" but are actually from other Middle Eastern countries, kicked out for not being Muslim. 1 million Jews expelled from Arab countries throughout the 1900s were absorbed by fellow Jews and given jobs and homes around the world (like my parents in the U.S.) If Arabs would do the same for their Palestinian brothers, give them land taken from Jews in Arab countries (instead of giving them bombs), there would be no Palestinian refugee problem, and the Middle East would be put back into balance. Arabs hold each other down and blame Jews. http://www.forgottenrefugees.org/overview.php   According to the 3000 year old best seller called the Bible, the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.  Muslims forcefully took the surrounding 1000-times larger area of land.  Leave little Israel alone if you want peace.

bfantina
bfantina

Israel, with extensive u.s. support, is one of the most powerful countries in the world. It has been occupying Palestine illegally for decades.  It is an apartheid regime and its soldiers are terrorists. 

DenisMacEoin
DenisMacEoin

The prisoners (who include women) could avoid all this anguish by a simple action: to stop killing Israeli citizens. More difficult would be to give up hatred and the advocacy of violence. The Israelis are a beleaguered people who have been trying to make peace and live in harmony with their neighbours for 65 years. They don't imprison Palestinians just for the fun of it. When they see their own babies in pools of blood or with their limbs torn off and they hear the Palestinians boasting about it and giving awards to murderers, they take action to  prevent it happening again. And the terrorists are damned lucky that Israel has no capital punishment. And is an expanding birth rate really ideal for a poor country?

LauraShelton
LauraShelton

Dear Author....you have a very big goof up in your title.  Immaculate conception doesn't mean a virgin conception....it means conception without sin. 

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

HOW DID MY DNA MAKE ME? (Internet Article) When you divide a cake, the parts are smaller than the original cake and the cake never gets bigger. When we were a single cell and that cell divided, the new cells were the same size as the original and we got bigger. New material had to come from somewhere. That new material came from food. The sequence of molecules in our DNA directed the molecules from our mother's food, we received in the womb, to become new cells forming all the tissues and organs of our body. When you understand how your DNA works, you'll also understand how egg yolks can become chickens. Read my popular Internet article: HOW DID MY DNA MAKE ME? Just google the title to access the article.

This article will give you a good understanding of how DNA works, as well as cloning and genetic engineering.

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. Bible/Biology)

JacobBlues
JacobBlues

Wow, a prison population boom.  


Except that given the number of prisoners claimed by Karl, and compared with the current estimated population of the West Bank (over 1.7 million), the prisoner population is equal to 0.3%.  


As for the humanity in the story, perhaps Karl could spend a moment or two asking why these men are actually in prison?  Especially with Israel's government releasing convicted murders as part of its 'goodwill' gesture to the Palestinians.  


But hey, why worry about the actual violence when you can create a narrative where people who shoot others are only 'labeled by Israel' as terrorists.  Way to spin Karl.  


All hail the valiant and violent.

mrxexon
mrxexon

It's a well known weapon of war.


You mass produce like crazy to cement your power in the years ahead. Orthodox Jews do it. Palestinians do it. Because both feel oppressed. Numbers do matter. And Israel must be watching this baby boom with fear.


x

Roxys
Roxys

@fixmdude lol right, bad defense.

According to the Bible the Jews stole the land that is today Israel by committing genocide, murdering and stealing the women of the native tribes. But I guess it's okay because God said it was cool. Historically the jews were not native. They killed the natives.

jamesf161
jamesf161

@fixmdude So, the Jews can have Israel after two hundred years of dispersion, but the palestinians just have to shut and leave even though they live there RIGHT NOW, Because of a religious text the Jews wrote. Isn't that an incredibly biased double standard? It's not like they're all shooting random israelis just because.

РобертД.Садлер
РобертД.Садлер

@bfantina So, by your standard, the US and Canada are occupying Native American lands illegally, because they acquired it through force and immigration?  The West Bank was acquired after Arabs and Palestinians attacked Israel, the Arabs and Palestinians ran away, and they suffered war losses, including the loss of land, right?  How far back, in decades or centuries do we claim illegal occupations? Should the Welsh launch a war against the English, since the majority of them are Anglos and Jutes?  Should all Americans, Canadians, Central Americans and South Americans of non-native descent be forced back to their ancestral homelands in the Eastern Hemisphere?  Do you think Europe and Asia can assimilate the influx of nearly 1 billion people?

Roxys
Roxys

@DenisMacEoin 

They treat each other the exact same way. Don't fool yourself. It's a cycle, a spiral. It won't break til both sides back down and it won't break while both sides pretend to be innocent.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@LauraSheltonYes, this goof with immaculate conception is a big one, but it's not the only in this piece of sloppy journalism, nor it is the biggest. Unfortunately, Karl Vick is not trying to inform the readers which should be a decent journalist's job. Instead, he indulges himself in ideological propaganda: weak, verbose, full of platitudes, deliberate omissions and direct lies .   

UncleBenny
UncleBenny

@LauraShelton A great many believing Protestant Christians think Immaculate Conception is synonymous with Virgin Birth, not understanding that it is actually a Catholic doctrine which refers to the supposedly sinless conception of Mary.

Duffman
Duffman

Cute story bro. You're just ADORABLE. P.S. any acreditation in theologie is worst than useless since there is no God and you fools are just deluding yourselves. Grow up and do something usefull with your life like digging ditches.

KettleKat
KettleKat

@BabuG.RanganathanEgg yolks don't become chickens, though.  The yolk is absorbed by the embryo, which becomes the chick.

L.Kaye
L.Kaye

@JacobBluesIsreal is NOT releasing as many prisoners as you think. Those they do release are few.  I think it is wonderful that Palestinians are able to have their children under such dire circumstances that Israel and the U.S. has put them under.  Yes, I am a U.S. Citizen. I am also Athiest and look at situation without "God" in my mind.  What Israel is and has done is obnoxious at best. 

L.Kaye
L.Kaye

@mrxexondon't forget the countless 'Christians' who have several children. They also happen to be 'Conservatives' who want a smaller government and want government out of our lives. Yet, they 'feel' it is there 'right' to extend their beliefs upon ever person who does not share their views and if you do not share their view you are condemned to hell. Moto; don't interfere with my life but let me tell others how to live!

NunuvYerbizness
NunuvYerbizness

@jamesf161@fixmdudeYou did mean two thousand years of dispersion, didn't you? And did you know that in 1929 the entire population of Palestine was 600,000 people, split evenly between Muslims, Christians, and Jews? Did you know that the Jews have continuously yearned to return to their land but have been barred, first by the Romans (who gave Judea the name Palestine as a deliberate insult), then by the Abbasids, and finally by the Ottomans? That those expressions of yearning and rights to the land are in a book that has been accepted as absolute truth by both Christianity and Islam, not just Judaism? That even after the expulsion, Jews have lived continuously in Palestine all that time, and that the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs there today moved there in the last century, following the Jews and seeking employment and opportunity? That the Arabs in Palestine have been shooting at and bludgeoning and killing Jews in Palestine that whole time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1929_Palestine_riots is but one example)? That the Mufti of Jerusalem was an avid Nazi supporter, and worked hard to collaborate in the destruction of the Jews in that city? That when Great Britain defeated the Ottoman Empire, they promised the Jews that they could return (Balfour declaration) and then reneged? That they promised again after WWII and the crime of genocide was revealed, then reneged again and rounded up all the refugees into detention camps that were but one step removed from concentration camps in themselves? Finally, no one is telling the Palestinian Arabs they have to leave--those that have chosen not to struggle to purge the land of Jews are called Israeli Arabs and enjoy full citizenship and extra privileges such as not being required to serve in the army so they won't be put in the position of fighting their fellow Arabs? If you didn't know those facts, consider them carefully, and if you did, then you were being intellectually dishonest.

AbeBird
AbeBird

@jamesf161 @fixmdude Arabs have already 21 states of their own; places that those "Palestinians" came from. Why won't the Arabs content with what they have and leave the Jews to live at their historical land in peace? It has nothing to to do with "religious text" but historical facts.

johndconnaughton
johndconnaughton

@KettleKat @BabuG.Ranganathan As I learned it the yolk DOES become the animal.  It is the so-called 'white' of the egg, the albumin, that is merely a food source. Aside from this, who cares right now?  This is a human story, and it is interesting  I wish all these people well, so-called 'Palestinian,' and so-called 'Israeli.' I wish they'd just solve their competing claims to a stinking patch of desert.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@L.Kaye@JacobBluesThe number of murderers released from Israeli prisons is irrelevant. What is relevant, is the fact that they didn't merit to be released. You think more of the terrorists should be make free - to continue their obnoxious carrier... does it have something to do with your Atheism or it's just your personal trait?


DenisMacEoin
DenisMacEoin

@L.Kaye@JacobBluesWhat has Israel done that is 'obnoxious'? The world is full of tyrannies that kill their own citizens, that fight other tyrannies, that have secret police who target the innocent. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, it has given full rights to its Arab citizens (about 1.5 million), full rights to women, full rights to gays, full rights to religious and other minorities. No other country in the Middle East (and far too many abroad) do any of those things, yet you call Israel obnoxious and say nothing about far, far worse countries. Israel has had to fight off three invasions and two intifadas, as well as hundreds of ac ts of terror in between. The Palestinians are bent on the destruction of Israel, yet you call Israel 'obnoxious'. Do you have any sense of morals? The Israeli army has been described by a very senior British officer as 'the most moral in the world', yet someone like you calls Israel 'obnoxious'. What exactly has Israel done to merit that? It has imprisoned convicted murderers and attempted murderers. Horrors! Who next? Would America do a thing like that? Of course not, the US would set them all free. Israel has put some checkpoints in the West Bank in order to block would-be murderers (and surprisingly it works). I remember checkpoints in Northern Ireland, put there to block would-be murderers. Hell, Israel must be doing something wrong. Israel has built a long fence to keep murderers out, and it has saved untold numbers of lives. Obnoxious. Why can't those nice Palestinians send their killers in to kill as many Jews as possible?

bfantina
bfantina

@DenisMacEoin @L.Kaye @JacobBlues You need to look at the facts, sir. Israeli soldiers (actually,  terrorists ) destroy Palestinian homes to build illegal settlements, set up Illegal checkpoints,  deprive Palestinians of food, medical care, housing, a means to make a living, and shoot them just because they can. More and more the world is recognizing this. Open your eyes and you will, too.