How Did a Palestinian Prisoner Father a Child Without Seeing His Wife?

How was the sperm of prisoner Abdul Kareen al-Rimawi smuggled out of an Israeli prison to a Ramallah fertility clinic and, from there, to the uterus of his wife?

Majd al-Rimawi is now a week old. Seemingly just another newborn. In his home, everything points to joy: the infant wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by love, the new baby carriage, the gift offered to every guest − a chocolate biscuit stuffed into a tiny plastic baby carriage − and the happiness of the proud mother and grandparents. Only the father is missing; pictures of him are hanging around the house.

Majd was born last week in a Nablus hospital to Lida and Abdul Kareem al-Rimawi. Twelve years ago, Abdul Kareem was sentenced to 25 years in prison for firing at Israel Defense Forces soldiers. Since then, he hasn’t received a single day of furlough, he and his wife have never been allowed a conjugal visit − which is the case for all Palestinian prisoners − and their contact with each other has always been via a grate or glass wall.

And yet, Lida became pregnant nine months ago by Abdul Kareem, and Majd was born last week, weighing 2.9 kilograms. Lida says Majd is the second baby so far to be born on the West Bank by the same method: He was preceded by 1-year-old Mohammed Ziban of Nablus, the son of another prisoner whose sperm was smuggled out of prison; there are now another 16 wives of prisoners who have since become pregnant the same way.

The members of the Rimawi household willingly reveal everything − except one detail: how exactly the sperm of prisoner Abdul Kareem was smuggled out of the Eshel Prison in Be’er Sheva, where he was imprisoned at the time ‏(he is now incarcerated in Nafha Prison in Mitzpeh Ramon‏), quickly transferred to the fertility clinic of Dr. Salem Abu Khaizaran in Ramallah, and from there to the uterus of Lida, who now beams with maternal happiness.

The exciting story of Lida’s pregnancy has been publicized in the territories and worldwide. Last week, when Majd was born, television crews were waiting to photograph the baby who had come into the world in such a complicated way.

This week, at home in the village of Beit Rima in the Ramallah area, the family was sitting and enjoying Majd, like relatives of any newborn infant. This one has not been brought to see his father yet, as the family is apprehensive about taking him to the prison, but they are talking about doing it sometime soon. In any event, Abdul Kareem has already seen his son on Palestinian television. Lida says Majd resembles both his parents and adds that she wants him to grow up to be “just like his father.”

After an initially suspicious response to the arrival at the house of the two Israeli guests, including a demand to examine our press cards, Lida let me hold Majd. That’s how I ended up sitting in their guest room, surrounded by the family, with the infant in my arms.

Majd is a sweet baby with tiny fingers who sleeps well. The baby and his mother are living in the home of Abdul Kareem’s parents, a well-kept stone house with a nicely tended garden on the slopes of Beit Rima, which is a relatively belligerent village when it comes to relations with Israeli authorities. Pictures of the fallen and of local prisoners adorn its streets; in the center of town there is a protest tent where locals are demanding the release of the prisoners. The man who planned the murder of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, Majdi Rahima Rimawi, came from here, for example.

Abdul Kareem’s father, Samih, insists on telling in detail how his son was shot by Israel Defense Forces soldiers during the first intifada and afterward was cruelly beaten, while he, a boy of 12, lay wounded, so that he was hospitalized for nearly a month at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. Samih says his son still suffers from his injuries to this day.

Abdul Kareem is now 36, the same age as his wife Lida. The two married about 13 years ago, and when their first child, Rand, a daughter, was 10 months old, her father was arrested. Rand is now a tall young girl, who grew up without a father at home. Now she has a little brother, and her mother says Rand hasn’t stopped crying with happiness since he was born. Every two weeks, Rand goes with her mother to visit her father.

Before his arrest, Abdul Kareem studied communications at Birzeit University; afterward he worked in the courthouse in Ramallah, where he and his wife and daughter were living at the time. When he was arrested the other two moved to the grandparents’ home in the village.

About a year ago, when the family heard about the case of the wife of a prisoner from Nablus who got pregnant, they decided to try to do the same. They contacted the doctor who has cared for the other prisoners’ wives, Dr. Abu Khaizaran, who runs the Razan fertility clinic. The Rimawis signed the requisite forms and received a tiny plastic container from the clinic.

The sperm was smuggled out of prison in the plastic container and apparently about four hours later it was brought to the clinic, where it was frozen − but from that point on, the family refuses to divulge the exact details of what happened.

In any event, Lida was successfully impregnated. She refrained from visiting her husband while carrying the child: Family members were afraid something could
happen to the fetus during visits to the Israeli prison. Now she says the birth was easier than that of her daughter.

The family has no doubt that the sperm that were subsequently fertilized really came from Abdul Kareem. A Muslim doctor wouldn’t allow anything else to happen, they insist.

“This whole experience has restored our hope,” says Abdul Kareem’s brother, who did not want to give us his full name because of his work in the Palestinian Authority security services. “It’s restored my brother to life. He’s been in prison for 12 years, what should have been the best years of his life. He entered at the age of 24 and now he’s 36. Now he has a reason to live and to hope. Yigal Amir [who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin] was allowed conjugal visits with his wife, but Palestinian prisoners are not. That’s why we were forced to operate this way.”

Gynecologist Salem Abu Khaizaran confirmed all the details of the story this week in a conversation with Haaretz. He said prisoners’ wives bring him their husbands’ semen, which can be preserved for up to about 24 hours, depending on its quality. Abu Khaizaran says he examines the viability of the sperm first, then freezes it, if necessary, until it can be used.

The doctor confirmed that 16 prisoners’ wives who are now pregnant have undergone this process − from Jericho, Jenin, Qalqilyah and Nablus − and three are due to give birth this month. He adds that he is not the only West Bank doctor who offers the same services.

The Israel Prison Service spokesman told Haaretz this week: “Without reference to a particular case, for reasons of privacy protection, the Prison Service does not allow, as a rule, visits that are not conducted through a glass partition, and\or conjugal visits with security prisoners. Measures are applied to prevent smuggling out of the prison.

“Up to now, there has been no confirmation from a recognized medical authority that the incidents referred to in the story are medically feasible, and there is no official evidence or confirmation that backs up the family’s story.”

I unwrap the biscuit inside the tiny baby carriage that every visitor receives and take out the greeting card that’s stuffed in there. It contains Majd’s name, his date of birth and the following text: “I came from the prison, despite the wardens and the bars. Mention God when you see me. Mention God when you pick me up in your arms.”

Alex Levac