Twenty-three years ago Ammar al-Ziben was arrested by Israeli forces while on his way to the West Bank from Jordan. An Israeli court later charged him with being a member of the Al-Qassam brigade and sentenced him to life imprisonment 27 times.
After Israeli authorities refused to release him in a prisoner swap agreement with Palestinian resistance group Hamas, thus ending his hopes of coming out of the high prison walls, he decided to challenge his detention in a unique way.
In 2011, Ammar succeeded to smuggle his sperm outside to sire a child without marital conjugation.
“We were shocked when the Israeli authorities excluded my father from the deal. The world darkened in our faces, but my father decided to create a light for us,” said Ammar’s 25-year old daughter Bashaer al-Ziben, who was a one-and-half-year-old, when her father was imprisoned.
Through the smuggled sperm, doctors used the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process to impregnate Ammar’s wife Dalal living in the village of Maythalon near Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank.
The IVF process involves removing an ovum or ova from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilize them in a culture medium in a laboratory.
In August 2012, Bashaer got her brother Mohannad Zebin — the first Palestinian baby born through the sperm smuggled from behind bars.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in the yard of her beautiful house, Bashaer said it was the happiest day in her life to see her brother.
“His birth was like a new light and hope for me, my sister, and our parents,” she said.
Ammar lost his parents after his arrest, which was very painful for Dalal and their two daughters. His mother, Aishah Zebin died in 2004 when she went on a hunger strike to protest against the detention of her son and other Palestinian youth. In 2009, Bashaer said they lost their grandfather, making their world bleak.
But, the arrival of Mohannad and later another baby, Salah al-Din, through the smuggled sperm of Ammar has brought smiles back to the family.
Israeli authorities block issuing documents
More than 50 married inmates have so far followed Ammar and smuggled their seminal fluid to sire 96 babies. Palestinians have named these babies “freedom ambassadors.”
The Israeli authorities treat these children as illegitimate and have been obstructing their issuence of identification documents, particularly those hailing from Jerusalem.
After their birth, Mohannad and Salah al-Din have visited their father just three times after many pleas submitted in the Israeli courts by human rights organizations.
“Mohannad and Salah Al-Din are emotionally attached to our dad, despite that their relationship with him is just by telephone calls. They have not had any hugs or physical contact with our father,” Bashaer said.
Mohannad spends most of his time poring through his father’s images, telling his sisters that he hopes to travel all over the world with their father.
Ammar is also the author of four books that he scripted inside jail. His novel When Oranges Bloom was awarded first prize at the 2010 culture competition festival in Jerusalem.
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