This may be the first successful attempt of its kind. A Palestinian child was born from artificial insemination from sperm smuggled out of an Israeli prison. The boy’s Palestinian father is serving consecutive life sentences for his involvement with Hamas. The details of the operation are being kept secret, but what may seem to be a unique and strange incident actually strikes a significant aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It highlights the ongoing process of interpreting the rights of Palestinians and their families under Israeli law. Although it has received little attention in the media, this occasion has the potential to become a real and continuing occurrence from Palestinians inside Israeli prisons.
There are an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Palestinian prisoners currently in Israel. More than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, which represents approximately 20% of the total population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and 40% of all males. Conjugal visits are not allowed for Palestinian prisoners, and for many prisoners the entire issue of having children has been moot. However, with the development of modern technology, artificial insemination has made the issue of procreation immediate and clearly still very controversial.
Sperm smuggling out of prisons from inmates first became widespread news in America in 2002. It has been a serious topic for the past decade in the United States, Europe, Israel, and elsewhere. It is an emotive issue that raises questions of human rights and reproductive autonomy over whether prisoners and their partners have the right to procreate. Israeli prisoners that have been convicted of serious crimes and serving life sentences have been previously allowed to carry out artificial insemination with their wives. In Israel in 2006, this first became an issue when extremist Yigal Amir, the man convicted of assassinating Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, tried to smuggle his sperm out of prison. After much heated debate, Amir was legally given permission to artificially inseminate his wife who gave birth a year later. Israel has since determined on individual bases that Israeli prisoners and murders cannot be deprived of the fundamental human right to procreate.
This family’s success accentuates the legal challenges surrounding the debates of autonomy, privacy, humanitarian rights, and personal decision-making for Palestinian prisoners and their families. Many questions come to mind: Are the rights of Palestinian prisoners upheld in Israel the same as Israelis? Is the right of a Palestinian to procreate lost as a cost of Israeli imprisonment? Which rights and whose rights survive incarceration? And more precisely who gets to regulate the operation of those rights?
More philosophically, this case highlights whether the state of Israel has a legitimate right or interest in regulating the creation of Palestinian prisoners’ un-conceived children. This issue is nowhere near settled in penal or philosophical terms, but this case appears to argue that the issue of un-conceived Palestinian children could soon enough be considered a legal right in Israel decision-making. Not that the Israel-Palestinian conflict needed anymore fuel for fire, but with this family’s success, more couples will attempt to try this in the future.