After six years of detention in Israeli prisons, Tamer succeeded in getting his wife, Hana, pregnant by smuggling his sperm out of prison. It was the first such scheme in the Gaza Strip, after five others involving the West Bank.
When Hana al-Za’anin, 26, found out that she was pregnant, she couldn’t hold back her tears. She was happy for her pregnancy but sad that her husband, Tamer al-Za’anin, 28, has been behind bars in Israel for nearly six years.
Hana held up the results of her pregnancy test to the shouts of joy by the women around her as they hugged, kissed and congratulated her. She then offered everyone sweets.
The idea of getting pregnant in this way was proposed by Hana’s neighbor. And when Hana found out that it had succeeded in the West Bank, she consulted her mother-in-law and, by phone, her incarcerated husband about the matter.
The couple agreed to try it. On visitation day, Tamer put his sperm sample in a transparent plastic bag and handed it to one of the visitors, who smuggled it out of prison and quickly headed toward Beit Hanoun, then to Gaza. Hana then took the sample to the fertilization clinic.
There, the doctor immediately froze the sample. The smuggling operation took six hours. Then Hana started preparing for the intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Four months later, on May 16, Hana got confirmation that she was pregnant.
The couple married on July 18, 2006. Tamer was arrested by the Israeli army on Nov. 3, 2006, during the invasion of Beit Hanoun. He was charged with belonging to the Islamic Jihad movement and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Hana told Al-Monitor, “It felt strange when the fertilized egg was injected into my uterus. I was sure that I would soon become pregnant. Indeed, the pregnancy was successful despite being away from my husband for six years, since he was arrested by the occupation forces. … Two days before the lab test, I felt changes in body; I knew I was pregnant. And on my relatives’ insistence, I went to the clinic for examination, where the nurse told me the positive test result.”
Hana and Tamer’s case is the first one of its kind in the Gaza Strip. There have been five such cases in the West Bank, where the first child conceived by that method was born a year ago.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Dr. Abdul-Karim al-Hindawi, who supervised Hana’s in-vitro fertilization operation, said, “As soon as we got the sample, we preserved it under the proper conditions and temperature. … We supervised the smuggling operation from the start. We told Hana that the sample should not be exposed to direct sunlight and brought to the clinic as soon as possible.”
For her part, Tamer’s mother, who is always with Hana, said, “I hope that my grandson is born healthy and peaceful. I was ecstatic when I heard of the pregnancy, but I was also sad about Tamer’s absence. He could not share in our joy. My only wish today is for him to be with us in these moments.”
According to the latest statistics by the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 4,900 Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli prisons. The detainees from Gaza have been deprived from family visits for six years, from the moment when the Qassam Brigades kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza. But visitation rights were reinstated when Shalit was released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Raafat Hamdouna, director of the Prisoners Studies Center, told Al-Monitor: “There have been many attempts to smuggle sperm samples from Israeli jails. All but six fertilization attempts failed ... Palestinian prisoners, especially those with long sentences, are in a race against time as they try to have children while they are in prison.”
The International Red Cross organizes family visits to the detainees from the West Bank and Gaza. Only immediate family members are allowed, and Israel refuses to grant permits even to those.
Hindawi said that Hana had undergone many medical tests before the artificial insemination. “During the ovulation period, which precedes the insemination and which lasts for about three months, Hana was injected with drugs that promote ovulation. Her hormone levels were analyzed. She was given an ultrasound, and provided with the necessary vitamins. … After this preparation, the chances of pregnancy become high, … about 40%, which is similar to rates reached by international clinics.”
Hana wanted to get pregnant this way despite the high financial cost, which is as much as $4,000 and covers medical tests, drugs, vitamins and other requirements of the in-vitro fertilization process, as well as the cost of child delivery.
Hindawi said four eggs were injected in Hana and she may have twins. But that will take several weeks to confirm. Hana would be happy to have twins, perhaps as compensation for years of being deprived of having children.
Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza City. He has worked as a news producer for BBC World Service, as well as contributed to Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, Al-Raya (Qatar) and other publications. He is also the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development (PICD). On Twitter: @iHaZeMi
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