Lydia Rimawi has just given birth to what she calls a gift from God. Baby Majid – new life born out of an underground smuggling ring that’s rippling through Israel’s prisons.
I’m talking about Palestinian babies born from sperm smuggled out of Israeli prisons.
The imprisoned men are convicted of participating in what Israel deems terror attacks. To most Israeli’s – the men are considered terrorists.
To Palestinians – they’re martyrs.
Their wives – the smugglers whose tactics have been shrouded in secrecy… Until now.
For the first time the women shared their secret methods. On my trip to Palestine reporting this story over three days these women invited me into their lives and homes to reveal their successes and plans to continue to smuggle sperm out of Israel’s prisons.
There are around 4,700 Palestinian husbands, sons and brothers imprisoned in Israeli jails. Many of them are serving life sentences.
These Palestinian prisoners are not permitted conjugal visits and permitted visits are restricted to 45 minutes. Husband and wife are separated by a sealed glass panel and communicate via telephone. No physical contact is allowed at any time.
Lydia and her counterparts – Em Rafat and Samia are amongst a growing number of Palestinian women refusing to let the ongoing conflict between Palestinian and Israeli forces halt their lives.
They’re keeping their husbands legacies alive – one shot of semen at a time.
There’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in the room today following Lydia’s birth. She is chanting “we did it, we challenged the Israeli’s and this is the biggest victory for us and I have a beautiful baby boy”.
Lydia is not the only one of these women with a cause for celebration. Samia whose husband is serving multiple life sentences is five months pregnant.
Em Rafat’s son has been in prison for seven years. His wife is eight months pregnant.
As the Islamic call to prayer floats over the West Bank, I’m told Lydia’s counterparts are planning their next smuggle ‘operation’.
It’s my last day in The West Bank and the morning of the operation I meet Em Rafat in her home village near Ramallah. She is allowing me to accompany her along to Ramon prison where her son is.
Due to stringent Israeli security measures the trip can take up to 14 hours. This is the same journey she made 9 months ago when she smuggled out sperm for her daughter in law.
The women claim the prisoners bring the sperm ready to each visit. But I was left bewildered as to how they get the sperm out and how it survives.
IVF experts say sperm can survive outside the body for up to five days only if kept at 37 degrees.
According to specialist Dr Salem Abu Khaizaran who helps these women with the IVF procedure there a currently 65 samples of smuggled sperm, 16 women pregnant, and three about to have their babies.
Dr Salem explains to me the variety of ways that he’s had samples delivered to him.
“The samples come to me in different forms either in eye-drops containers, nose-drops containers, some of them give it in plastic gloves in different forms. The strangest thing the sperm came to us in was through a chocolate wrapper,” says Dr Salem.
Several checkpoint security breaches later, the threat of my camera being smashed to pieces by guards and a very hairy situation that just escalates as the adventure progressed – this is a story that definitely won’t leave me for a while.
I can tell you the sperm, the smugglers and myself all came out unscathed – with some extraordinary footage but it was by no means an easy feat.
I hope this underground network of Palestinian women and their phenomenal courage, determination and strength of spirit will leave you feeling as amazed as I am. They are truly a force to be reckoned with.