Smuggling Semen Out of Israeli Prisons

Antonio Faccilongo

Photos by Antonio Faccilongo

Text by Ye Charlotte Ming


More than 6,000 Palestinians, mostly men, are detained in Israel as political prisoners, with nearly 1,000 of them serving more than 20 years. Some of the detainees are convicted, while others are held because of their potential threats to Israel. 

“One of the issues involving the Palestinian people, in addition to the difficult socio-political situation,” said photographer Antonio Faccilongo, “is that a very large number of their men are in Israeli prisons.”

Antonio Faccilongo
Basimah Nawaja, 37, shows a photo of her husband Issa, 41, sentenced to 22 years in prison for military operations. They have a 2-year-old child, Sadeel, born through IVF. 

Faccilongo set out to document the toll this high number of imprisoned men takes on families, what he observed as the strongest social structure in Palestine. He discovered a surprising phenomenon: Facing their husband’s absence, many Palestinian women have resorted to smuggling their husband’s semen out of prison in order to conceive children through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Prisoners store seminal fluid inside tubes or old pens, which they hide inside snacks such as chocolate. During the ten minutes of permitted playtime, they pass the snacks to their children. 

How? The prisoner’s spouse and immediate family members are allowed a 45-minute visit every two weeks, through a glass window and a telephone. For a brief time at the end of each meeting, the detainee’s children get a chance to embrace their father, during which the exchange reportedly takes place. One of Faccilongo’s images shows a common method used — semen stored in a ball pen, wrapped in a melting chocolate bar that the inmate would give to his child.

A hospital incubator in Gaza. 

A number of clinics in Gaza provide IVF treatments to the inmates’ wives free of charge, Faccilongo said, with more than 60 babies born this way in the past three years. 


Getting permission for Faccilongo, an Italian man, to photograph the women is difficult, let alone following them through the process. But with the assistance of a Palestinian prisoner’s club, Faccilongo was able to secure access and create intimate portraits of the women, whose lives are suspended since their husbands were taken away, and who see artificial insemination not only as a method to profess their love and continue the family bloodline, but also as a way to join the Palestinian resistance.

Amma Elian, 39, is the wife of Anwar Elian, 39. He was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“They believe one day, they will have their nation, and the prisoners will be free again,” Faccilongo said.

Faccilongo said the region is too often shown only as a place of war, and nuanced reports on the lasting humanitarian issues are rarely seen in the mainstream media. His project, titled “Habibi,” the Arabic word for “my love,” aims to do the opposite — to restore human dignity and reveal the hidden realities that will allow viewers to understand the daily life of the Palestinian people.

Signs of a life suspended at Iman Al Barghouti's home in Kobar. Her husband, Nael Al Barghouti, has spent 38 years in prison. He was arrested on 4 April 1978 after carrying out a commando operation in which one Israeli was killed. He was released in Shalit agreement between Hamas and Israel in 2011 but was arrested again and sentenced to a life imprisonment.

With funding from the Getty Images Editorial Grant, Faccilongo will continue to develop the story, documenting the lives of the newborns. Combining with materials such as photos the detainees took in jail and love letters written to their partners, Faccilongo hopes to piece together a remarkable story of love and resilience.