Int. J. Middle East Stud. 51 (2019), 525-545 doi: 10.1017/S00207438 19000680

Mohammed Hamdan



This paper investigates the contemporary phenomenon of smuggling sperm from within Israeli jails, which I treat as a biopolitical act of resistance. Palestinian prisoners who have been sentenced to life-imprisonment have recently resorted to delivering their sperm to their distant wives in the West Bank and Gaza where it is then used for artificial insemination. On the level of theory, my analysis of this practice benefits from Jacques Derrida’s commentary in The Post Card on imagi- native postal delivery of sperm to distant lovers. I use Derrida’s heteronormative implication to examine how Palestinian prisoners defy the Israeli carceral system via the revolutionary act of sperm smuggling. The article then argues that smuggling sperm challenges the conventional gender codes in Palestinian society that see women in passive roles. Drawing on Derrida’s metaphorical connection between masturbation and writing, I problematize the perception of speech/orality as primary in traditional Palestinian culture. Women, who mostly act as smugglers, become social agents whose written stories of bionational resistance emerge as a dominant mode of representation.

Keywords: gender; Jacques Derrida; IVF resistance; Palestinian prisoners; sperm-smuggling

Jacques Derrida’s The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond includes a text called “Envois,” which is a series of letters addressed to a mysterious female lover. In the text, Derrida writes:

The emission of sense or of seed can be rejected (postmark, stamp, and return to sender). Imagine the day, as I have already, that we will be able to send sperm by post card, without going through a check drawn on some sperm bank, and that it remains living enough for the artificial insemination to yield fecundation, and even desire.!

Derrida’s comments link epistolary correspondence and semen, which he treats as a pos- sibly rejected “postmark” or “stamp.” However, Derrida’s connection between “artifi- cial” insemination, the postal communication of desire, and a sense of futurity implies a powerful imaginative prediction of coming events. Who thought that someone would be able to produce sperm that “remains living” in “some sperm bank” to be posted and used later for insemination and then “fecundation”? The reference Derrida made in 1980 to “some sperm bank” and the dissemination of sperm via the postcard was indeed

Mohammed Hamdan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine; e-mail: moh_hamdan

© Cambridge University Press 2019 0020-7438/19

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prophetic. Since 2012, this prophecy has become a real practice by Palestinian prisoners who have recently adopted the strategy of smuggling their sperm outside Israeli prison cells for the purpose of inseminating their wives.”

By “Palestinian prisoners” I mean the more than 5,000 political prisoners in Israeli jails who are currently serving life sentences for offences that range from stone throwing and burning tires to killing Israeli soldiers. They are normally classified by Israeli authorities as security prisoners, a designation that subjects them to extra restrictions by Israeli prison laws, especially the denial of conjugal visits, which is brought into public awareness by local and international media on a daily basis.* According to Sigrid Vertommen, these restrictions have “far-reaching consequences for the desires of Palestinian prisoners,” including Walid Daka, who has been jailed for twenty-five years, and whose requests for conjugal rights have continually been rejected.t Vertommen suggests that for Palestinian prisoners “every sperm is sacred,”° because it entails a subversive act of resis- tance either literally by forming children or symbolically by circumventing prison laws and producing children who signal hope and freedom to their families. According to Vertommen, the value of sperm as a biopolitical act of resistance stems from the fact that the Zionist project in Palestine is rooted in the definition and development of Israel as a Jewish state. This entails the containment of the Palestinian population since 1948, a population which “has continued to pose an existential threat to the Jewish col- lective body.”° Rhoda Kanaaneh writes that demography is intrinsic to the nationalistic philosophy of Zionism. She asserts that the very definition of Israel as a Zionist state is based on the politics of numbers, in that the early Zionist settlers saw the dispersion of Palestinians and the increasing numbers of Jewish citizens as important to the establish- ment of a “mono-religious” Jewish state.’

“Nationalist biopolitics,” therefore, becomes a concern not only for Zionists but also for Arab Palestinians, in the sense that women’s bodies in both polities are the center within the production of national discourses.® Both sides of the political conflict under- stand the significance of women’s bodies and health in demographic warfare or in what Kanaaneh refers to as birthing the nation. To imprisoned Palestinian husbands and their wives, physical disconnection threatens the concept of procreation within the Palestinian socio-political context, which lays emphasis on the rhetoric of war and the persistence of military conflict. For Palestinians, children are the national fuel of not only the demo- graphic struggle between Israel and Palestine but also any possible war that may erupt between the two countries.

In fact, the prisoners’ unconventional resistance via the smuggled sperm cannot be sep- arated from the wider historical formation of the resistant body in the Palestinian—Israeli conflict. Since 1948, the body of the Palestinian fighter has been a site of resistance through armed conflict with Israeli forces. One popular example of the development of the Palestinian body as a vehicle of resistance is suicide bombing. Matthew Abraham believes that suicide bombing by Palestinians “became a biopolitical strategy and a legit- imate form of anti-colonial struggle” following seventy years of suffering, frustration, and betrayal.’ In the past few years, Palestinian prisoners added another layer to biopolitical resistance by undertaking hunger strikes, employing the body “as a means of making a political or social statement.”'° The biopolitical body, in this sense, is a movement between the Palestinian subject and political or national commitment to resistance,

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which, through Derrida’s eyes, I read as a performance against Israeli state power and pri- son laws.

The contemporary Palestinian practice of smuggling sperm and in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be read in parallel to Derrida’s figurative communication with his female lover in The Post Card and his discussion of masturbation in Of Grammatology. In the former text, sperm “functions like the postcard (a public/private message circulating among positions and along channels which are determined by networks of state power).”'! Derrida here takes issue with state power’s practice of censoring communica- tion, draws checks on sperm banks, and derails the function of sperm/postcards. Similarly, Palestinian prisoners, whose bottled sperm becomes a political function of the post, are disposed to Israeli state power, which limits this function. Both Derrida and Palestinian prisoners seek to create a sort of power that delimits the state’s networks and/or undermines its censored channels. On the other hand, Palestinian prisoners and Derrida act for the sake of universal truths. Lorenzo Fabbri suggests that Derrida’s desire to have children is associated with “the Socratic desire to conceive general, universal truths . . . to leave an indelible trace of one’s self.”!” Likewise, for Palestinian prisoners these children will become creative traces of universal political truth and justice that resist a deliberate process of speechlessness imposed upon their parenting prisoners by Israeli power state. Within Derrida’s logic of identity, the trace does not only imply the loss of the origin. As Derrida argues, “within the discourse that we sustain and according to the path that we follow it [trace] means that the origin did not even disappear, that it was never constituted except reciprocally by a nonorigin, the trace which thus becomes the origin of the origin.”'* The trace here undoes the traditional ontological meaning of political pres- ence by marking the absent non-original other as a possibly present original self. Derrida’s discussion of the trace as the non-presence of present, theoretically speaking, can help account for the Palestinian prisoners’ isolation or absence as the becoming of power and originary presence via the child as the trace. The child/trace not only comes as present affirmation of the absent Palestinian other/father who is denied by the Israelis; the child/trace also manifests the prisoners’ nonorigin in their society only to affirm their powerful return to presence and symbolize their resistance to the Israelipolicing of subversive correspondence.

For Derrida, the child stands for a perpetual desire to move beyond his own fear of cir- cumcision by becoming the trace where the self is reproduced via writing. Whilst the pris- oners endeavor to defy the Israeli authorities, move beyond jail bars, and regenerate themselves by begetting children, Derrida’s “Circumcision” bespeaks his anxiety about the ability to (re)produce as a consequence of cutting the foreskin. I deploy Derrida’s concern to read contemporary Palestinian prisoners’ fear of incarceration and its effect on the cutting of their bodies from the social world, especially their wives. In attempt to authorize the procreation of children and to reattach themselves lawfully to their social body, Palestinian prisoners and their families have been seeking fatwas. Although Islamic religious authorities have different views on the subject, which I exam- ine in the second section of this article, the act of sperm smuggling is eventually recog- nized as a socio-political and human necessity in various discourses of figh al-sujiin and multiple fatwas that legalize IVF, especially in the case of long prison terms. I argue, nonetheless, that masturbation and the legalization of IVF demand a rereading of the place of prisoners’ wives and a reshaping of gender-specific concepts such as

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masculinity/femininity and speech/writing in Palestinian oral culture, where “the institu- tional legitimacy of the oral tradition derives its authority from the centrality of the word to Islamic thought and the word’s legendary association with divine revelation.” '* Sharif Kanaana suggests that Arab, here Palestinian, cultural hegemony functions as the divine- based male authority of orality and heroic action over other forms of expression. If there is any glory given to Palestinian women, it only “comes from their association with male heroes.”!> I argue, however, that masturbation, sperm smuggling, and IVF challenge this association and general Palestinian social views about the role of women and their position as secondary members in their society. In Of Grammatology, Derrida associates masturbation with writing and suggests that both are vital to originary speech or mascu- line oral presence. The fact that Palestinian prisoners have developed masturbation as a supplement to originary presence (or sexual intercourse with their wives) necessitates the use of Derrida’s theory. In fact, Derrida’s deconstruction is also fundamentally con- cerned with the traditional binary system where opposites such as orality/writing and men/women are defined against and prioritized over each other. I employ this theory to criticize conventional relations between Palestinian men and women within the new politics of sperm smuggling. The employment of Derrida’s philosophy will also be help- ful for exploring how gender roles are problematized in Palestinian society, where women become major participants in this process.


The Israeli prison is a site of power contestation between jailors and jailed, a place where communication, material and verbal, can be completely subversive. Within the Israeli penal institution, conjugal visits and correspondence take place under the constant sur- veillance of jailors and cameras, and the communicative acts of Palestinian inmates are controlled, dispossessing them of agency.'° The concept of agency in the case of Palestinian prisoners implies how they understand the Israeli construction of power and react to ensuing political actions. This means that Palestinian agency is tied to knowl- edge of existing power relations, which provides an excellent opportunity “to see Palestinians through their own eyes.”!’ Prisoners, in other words, embody the meaning of agency by moving out of their passive roles and engaging with sociopolitical practices such as smuggling sperm, which symbolizes their resistance of victimization and desire for freedom. Elia Zureik suggests that sperm smuggling and IVF are nationalist strategies tied to “the confrontation with Israel” due to their reproductive or demographic threat to the Israeli state. Smuggling sperm, according to Zureik, is also a subversive act of resis- tance because “it is about confronting the state in its daily brutal pursuits and in its car- ceral prison policies.”"® In his BBC news report, Jon Donnison suggests that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is suspicious of the truth about sperm smuggling. Donnison reports that Sivan Weizman, the Prison Authority spokesperson, states that “one can’t say it did not happen. However, it’s hard to believe it could happen because of the tight security measures being taken during the security prisoners’ meetings with their relatives.” Thus, the strict surveillance of the IPS does not necessarily mean that smuggling sperm “did not happen”; Donnison reports that in 2013 ten Palestinian children were born from sperm smuggled in plastic cups and bottles that managed to escape the limita- tions imposed by the IPS.

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In order to ensure the prisoners’ position of inferiority, the prison system has to enforce aregime of noncommunication, nondelivery, or, to be metaphorical, no-letters/postcards. As Esmail Nashif argues,

Prison is meant to disconnect its inmates by isolation; at least, this is the aim of its builders and owners. By contrast, the inmates of the prison seek incessantly to communicate and to reconnect themselves to each other and to their society. The channels of communication of the imprisoned are excellent locales for examining the contested sites of the material culture. The body of the pris- oner is one of such sites, which the prison authorities circulate in a very regimented order.”°

Nashif explains here how the Israeli penal system always endeavors to exclude Palestinian prisoners from internal and external networks. The prisoner’s body is a material site that is “circulated in a very regimented order,” in that it functions as a passageway into a clear- cut power system where the Israeli jailor represents the high authority and prisoners the subordinate party. Nashif states that communication within Israeli prisons can be “verbal, and hence limited to the joint presence of the sender and receiver,” or material.’ Prisoners’ material communication refers to the exchange of objects between prisoners themselves or between them and their families. Material contact includes a diversity of written communication that travels from Israeli prisons to the Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza or vice versa. In Palestinian Political Prisoners, Nashif men- tions a variety of forms of written communication that were representative of “material culture” during the 1980s and 1990s, including “letters, books, poems and military orders, among other kinds of information.””*

The most surreptitious and subversive of these forms is the kabsiilah (capsule).7° During the 1980s and early 1990s, the kabsiilah was a material form that carried private information and hence provided some political agency to Palestinian prisoners. Nashif writes that the kabsiilah, which “has a cylindrical shape about half a centimeter in radius and three to four centimeters long,” is made manually by folding the paper that contains the prisoners’ private messages and wrapping it in strong layers of plastic. When the plas- tic edges of the kabsilah are burned, the paper takes a “cylindrical” shape and becomes easy to smuggle within prison cells and out into Palestinian society. Each kabsilah nor- mally “contains ten to fifteen such papers, and sometimes even more,”~* depending on how tight the paper is folded, and is normally concealed inside the prisoner’s body. The concealment of kabsiilahs inside the prisoners’ body creates a double space that sub- verts the jailors’ agency and makes communication possible. Nashif argues that the kab- siilah redefines “the borders of the colonizer’s annexed space and the limits of the colonized contested body.””° The kabsilah, in other words, renegotiates the “colonized” body as a flexible subject that functions as a biopolitical substance capable of extending and reaching the social world outside the prison cells. During elections, for example, imprisoned political leaders can influence and contribute to the making of Palestinian politics by liaising with the public through smuggling. The voices of these prisoners can have an impact on the general opinion of voters and political activists.°° Such impact happens through the kabsilah, which transforms into a vocal channel as it replicates the prisoner’s voice by doubling itself as a communicative body-within-the-body.

The language embedded within the kabsiilah, however, involves danger and resistance: what the kabsiilah envelops might be sensitive and detrimental to the prisoners’ safety. If the kabsiilah that contains radically political information is detected by the IPS, it can

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lead to prolonged confinement and physical torture for those convicted of hiding it inside their bodies and passing it to others.*’ On the other hand, the language of the kabsiilah encodes meanings of resistance of the victimized through leaving the victim’s role and coming to terms with understanding power. Lila Abu-Lughod redefines resistance as “a growing disaffection with previous ways we have understood power.”** She deroman- ticizes resistance as bravery and “creativity of the human spirit,” and calls upon scholars to read it as “a diagnostic of power” or as a point of entry into the evaluation of forms of domination.”’ In the words of Michel Foucault, one does not read power of the dominant only negatively, but also positively because “it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, [and] produces discourse.”*° Israeli exercise of carceral power can thus be positive because it brings about the prisoners’ political agency through resistance. In the case of Palestinian prisoners who smuggle kabsiilahs, their resistant practice of smuggling discloses power relations and unveils the process and strategies of carrying out these relations in a way that makes possible the reading and exposure of Israeli interior power politics.

Nashif writes that the kabsiilah “might be put in the mouth under the tongue, put in the rectum or swallowed . . . under the watchful eyes of the prison guards, the kabsilah is delivered from mouth to mouth while kissing across the netting that divides families from inmates.”*! In Nashif’s interview with Fahid Abu al-Haj, who managed to write a book that he communicated to his wife throughout the entirety of his imprisonment in Israel, the latter states:

My wife received around sixty cabsulihs from me. . . it was the whole book that I wrote in the prison ... when I was released I unwrapped it and started to copy the book . . . after two months Fursan al Intifadah [The Knights of the Intifada] was published and it reached most of Palestine.*”

Abu al-Haj’s kabsiilahs were symbolic of political agency by exposing certain knowl- edge and understanding of power and Palestinian prisoners in relation to dominant struc- tures of the Israeli carceral system. Al-Haj could not be physically present in the West Bank, but his words made it there, as if he figuratively moved beyond the prison bars via his smuggled language, which symbolizes both a body of diagnostic knowledge of Israeli power relations and his metaphorical freedom. Although Nashif does not explore the practice of smuggling sperm at the time of his writing, a practice that has developed in the last six years following the increased ferocity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,** I read all forms of smuggled material within the Israeli power apparatus as part of the over- all political context of sperm smuggling. To perpetuate Nashif’s discussion of biopolitical resistance, I argue that the prisoners’ secretive delivery of sperm is a linguistic/material form of communication that Derrida imagined or anticipated when writing The Post Card in 1980.

In his communication with his beloved woman in The Post Card,** Derrida states that the child is “the impossible message between us.” The subject of the child runs through “Envois” as something unworkable. For Derrida, the writer/sender, the child “never will be, never should be a sign, a letter, even a symbol.”*° As the textual reproduction or sex- ual “reproSuction” of Derrida’s postal correspondence with his beloved,*” the child is a major obstacle that stands in the way of one-to-one communication. Derrida’s sense of the impossibility of the child can be located in the term “reproSuction”: the child falls between repro- and suction, or giving and taking back. The child is a state of presence,

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but, as an impossible presence, s/he must be sucked back. Although Derrida’s child is impossible, it is the absent medium or key through which futuristic readers are able to enter the world of Derridean prophecy. Put differently, the child still symbolizes a state of aspiration—the aspiration for the impossible, or the reworking of the impossible. For some prisoners serving life sentences, the child similarly belongs to the realm of the impossible: s/he falls between reality and imagination. The absence of sexual activity between prisoners and their distant wives throws the child into the world of imagination and makes the idea of production akin to fantasy. Yet fantasy also functions as a psychic bond between the Palestinian prisoner and his political cause and nationalistic self. Yael Navaro-Yashin believes that fantasy offers “unconscious psychic attachments to the very object (e.g., the state, the nation, public discourse).”** For Palestinian prisoners, fantasy becomes an expressive “force of the political” that keeps their ties with their community, nationalism, or state “as an object of desire.”*” Therefore, the procreation of children from within Israeli jails remains an enduring state of fantasy that is deeply rooted in the pris- oners’ psychological commitment to a wider Palestinian national/state cause.

By becoming procreative within their confined spaces, the prisoners prove that the child is an actual possibility, and that they want to produce, act, and move beyond the pri- son. In both Derrida’s and Palestinian prisoners’ cases, the (im)possible child stands as a prominent feature within the phenomenon of sperm communication. The (im)possible child is an affirmation that the seed has made its way to the world, just like the writing of the circumcized child Derrida, hence the analogy between productive prisoners and reproductive Derrida. In “Circumfession,” the circumciszd child Derrida provokes an analogy between circumcision as the colossal danger of cutting or loss and the need to write or reproduce the self: “circumcision remains the threat of what is making me write here, even if what hangs on it only hangs by a thread and threatens to be lost”™ If, for Derrida, circumcision is a dangerous bodily act of cutting or being cut from the world, incarceration is a threatening condition of being cut from the social world because it entails a state of non-procreation for Palestinian prisoners.

Derrida’s anticipation of the postcard that is capable of carrying the semen, traversing the borders of language, and subsequently delivering the child, recalls Palestinian prison- ers’ practice of sending their sperm across “the green line,” as it came to be termed, that separates Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.*! Historically speaking, the “oreen line” refers to the borders that separate Israel from neighboring Arab countries before the 1967 War, and the parts of these borders that lie between Israel on the one hand and the West Bank and Gaza on the other hand since 1987. Mark Tessler suggests that “the green line” developed as an indispensable ideology and rhetoric in “Israeli polit- ical consciousness” following its influence on the Israeli community since the second Intifada in 1987.*? The Intifada changed the political perceptions of the Israeli individuals who “regard the West Bank and Gaza as zones of insecurity.”** This sense of insecurity, I believe, also equally reflects on the lives and future of Palestinian prisoners whose desire for production is endangered. Derrida’s insecure, traumatic experience of circumcision during childhood arguably bespeaks the fear of Palestinian prisoners in terms of produc- tivity. The fact that Derrida’s circumcision metaphorically constitutes a threat to commu- nication and productivity by means of cutting the foreskin of the penis can be likened to the frustrating, nonproductive experience of Palestinian prisoners who cannot reach beyond the borders of the “green line.” Derrida’s fear lies in his inability to reach beyond

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the contours of his body, one of whose purposes is to deliver the message, the child, or the possible future of Derrida’s system of signs/writing. Derrida and the Palestinian prisoner alike resort to writing and/or masturbation, respectively, as a way of aspiring towards the impossible, or the child. Whilst Derrida uses the postcard as a vehicle of self-reproduction following the traumatic experience of circumcision, the Palestinian prisoner makes recourse to masturbation and smuggling sperm to cross into the self and recreate it via the child.

Meaningful productivity for Derrida and Palestinian prisoners, it may be argued, also lies in the concept of crossing. In “Circumfession,” the red circular line marks the distress- ing experience of Derrida’s circumcision: the nauseating “blood is mixed with sperm or the saliva of fellatio.”** The red line that is left as a result of circumcision around the fore- skin separates Derrida from production and invokes the possibility of the death of crea- tivity, a line that the young Derrida still hopes to cross via writing and dissemination. Similarly, the green line that separates Israel and the West Bank is also an obstacle to all attempts by Palestinian prisoners to send sperm. The green line invokes scary feelings for the wives who, subject to perpetual Israeli surveillance, try to cross to the OPT, smug- gle their husbands’ sperm, and procreate the child. The red circular line around the fore- skin of the circumciezd child Derrida and the green line that separates the Palestinian prisoner’s body and sperm, or envelope from the wife’s womb, are detrimental, threaten- ing lines to progress and procreation. However, by rewriting the sperm in “a pronounce- able letter” and posting it to his beloved or imaginary readers in The Post Card,** Derrida moves beyond the red line that also separates death and writing, or absence and presence. Both Derrida and Palestinian prisoners move beyond the red line of circumcision and/or social disconnection, and overshadow an imagined future in which the postcard meta- phorically becomes the carrier of sperm. As I started writing this article in 2014, I read in the news that Husam al-‘Attar, a thirty-year-old Palestinian sentenced to an eighteen- year prison term, has now fathered his first baby, a girl he named Jannat, via sperm that was smuggled out of the prison and dispatched to his wife in Gaza.*°

The name Jannat, meaning “gardens” in Arabic, conveys a symbolic message from within Israeli prison cells. Jannat literally refers to Eden and greenness; metaphorically, it denotes a futuristic paradise for Palestinian prisoners. The transformation of semen that finds its way outside the prison into greenness, youth, or children implies hope not only for the prisoner al-‘ Attar but also for the entire Palestinian nation. For Palestinian prison- ers fatherhood is normally regarded as a political or even nationalistic achievement, because it shows they have succeeded in circumventing the IPS. What matters here, there- fore, is the practice of sexual/textual regeneration, writing for the future or the communi- cation of bodies far beyond Derrida’s red line or the Israeli “green line.” The message, to put it simply, should be: never stop writing and/or masturbation, which is a “dangerous supplement” that Derrida thoroughly associates with [Rousseau’s] activity as a writer.*” In Of Grammatology, Derrida suggests that masturbation is dangerous because it comes to supplement the originary, which is the natural coitus between man and woman. Derrida links masturbation and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writing activity, arguing that for Rousseau masturbation becomes a productive act. Derrida, by contrast, equates mastur- bation with dangerous writing that supplements nature or speech, thus giving autoeroti- cism a significant place within the order of things: nature/culture, speech/writing, or coitus/masturbation. For married Palestinians, masturbation is a threat to marriage,

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natural desire, and procreation in the traditional sense of how marriage is perceived in Palestinian society.** Yet the fact that prisoners are incapable of being naturally intimate with their wives has recently made them realize the value of masturbation and the practice of sperm smuggling in shaping their personal and political dreams of liberty.

For Palestinian prisoners masturbation turns into a value of pleasure because it results in procreation. Marcia Inborn cites the Islamic scholar Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s commentary on the pleasurable value of masturbation, which “is permissible for prisoners, travellers and ‘indigent, lonely persons who did not have access to a lawful sex partner.””*? The value of masturbation as pleasure thus manifests itself “as a means to prevent zind, or ille- gitimate sexual intercourse.” Masturbation, in addition, is meant to relieve the human body of “a harmful accumulation of semen in the testicles,”°° and this adds to its pleasur- able value because it implies the avoidance of pain and death and the improvement of physical health. For Palestinian prisoners, the value of masturbation is not only limited to pleasure as they are banned from conjugal contact but is also associated with the priv- ilege of procreation. Inborn argues that in Islamic societies men are responsible for “cre- ating human life, which they carry as performed fetuses in their sperm and ejaculate into women’s waiting wombs.” This, of course, problematizes the place of women in these societies, where “only fathers (and by extension, father’s relatives) are the true ‘blood’ relatives of their children.”*' In this article, by contrast, I use the practice of masturbation in order to reread cultural concepts of fatherhood because women question the patriarchal monopoly of procreative activity, a topic I turn to in the final section. Yet, the broad con- figurations of the acts of masturbation and “fathering” children as symbolic of national resistance and sumiid show that for the Palestinian demographic future, “every sperm is sacred.”


Masturbation evolves as an initial significant step on the journey of Palestinian political revolution, in the sense that masturbatory acts and later sperm smuggling culminate in producing children despite incarceration. Although these masturbatory acts and artificial insemination carry rich national signification, they have recently been brought into ques- tion. Given the emphasis on the application of Islamic law in Palestinian communities, insemination by the use of prisoners’ smuggled sperm has unleashed a set of ethical dis- putations among scholars and religious authorities. Part of the social and religious fear of sperm smuggling and IVF is the possible ubiquity of a new culture of masturbation and postal communication that could threaten natural sexual intercourse between husbands and wives. Islamic discourses on masturbation generally suggest that masturbators are akin to selfish pleasure-seekers and view masturbation as “a distasteful form of sexual- i Fuad Khuri refers to an unconfirmed hadith stating that masturbators “will not be seen on the day of resurrection.”°* The Shafi‘i School also considers masturbation as haram, a repulsive act that must be forbidden unless performed between husbands and wives during sex. The act of spilling sperm, Khuri suggests, is ambivalent in Islamic tradition; although it is necessary to procreate children via ejaculation inside the vagina, sperm itself is considered impure waste and repugnant pollution.** It is, there- fore, the duty of Muslims to purify their bodies after either sexual intercourse or coitus interruptus (masturbation), especially before they go to pray.

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The two famous Islamic scholars Sayfuddin and Muhametov also urge that masturba- tion should be illegitimate; it is an act that is usually frowned upon by Islamic law.°° Islamic law, generally, lays great emphasis on the institution of marriage and natural insemination. Spilling the semen is an evil deviation of personal desires that must be pre- served for healthy marriages and the production of children. Addressing physical health and cleanliness, Inborn suggests that “semen is a pollutant for women’s bodies as well.” Inborn exemplifies the defiling nature of semen by describing how Egyptian women douche and purify their sexual parts every time they have sexual intercourse.°° However, male masturbation is also seen as necessary to ward off evil sexual deeds, par- ticularly zinad. Some Islamic scholars such as Ibn Hanbal go against the Shafi‘i school by justifying the practice of masturbation as lawful when “a legitimate partner [wife] to sat- isfy sexual lust” with is absent.°’ Here Ibn Hanbal rationalizes the performance of mas- turbation for certain groups of people, including “prisoners.” In fact, prisons in Islamic societies have their own shari‘a (collection of religious laws) which includes answers to puzzling questions about masturbation, conjugal visits, and procreation. Despite the jurisprudent differences among Islamic schools such as the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi‘, and Hanbali over the right of prisoners to intimate conjugal visits, it remains under the authority of the judge to issue laws of permission or denial. Recently, many different reli- gious authorities have issued fatwas permitting Palestinian prisoners to procreate children due to its politically loaded significance in which the acts of masturbation, sperm smug- gling, and IVF are uniquely perceived as tools of bionational resistance.

The news reporter Naela Khalil writes that “many Palestinian religious scholars, such as Mufti Ikrima Sabri and Hamas leader Hamid Bitawi, issued a fatwa years ago permit- ting the wives of prisoners to become pregnant through their husband’s sperm smuggled out of Israeli jails.” 8 Since 1980, a number of fatwas on IVF have been issued in the Middle East. These fatwas have acknowledged that despite a lack of references in the Qur’an and hadith to medically assisted conception, these main texts “have affirmed the importance of marriage and family formation through material procreation, as indi- cated in the opening paragraphs of the Al-Azhar fatwa.”°’ Among the religious bodies that have issued fatwas recognizing the significance of IVF within the context of procre- ation are the Islamic Fikh Council in Makka (1984) and the Islamic Education, Science and Culture Organization in Rabaat (2002). Nowadays the abundance of fatwas encour- aging IVF makes Palestinian women and their imprisoned husbands feel more confident with this process, especially now that society has granted a moral blessing on this “heroic” act: “today a hero was born to a hero,” said Tariq, the brother of a Gazan inmate sentenced to twelve years in prison.°° This positive social reception, which considers the prisoner/father a “hero,” has caused a drastic increase in the number of successful artifi- cial inseminations in the West Bank and Gaza, leading in turn to the gradual rise of sperm smuggling as a new form of Palestinian sumiid.

Palestinian prisoners’ autoerotic acts give hope to families whose lineal descent is threatened by distance and involuntary separation and whose national struggle needs to be sustained. Therefore, sperm must be regarded not as mere waste but rather as political hope for liberty and a tool of defying the Israeli prison authorities, even if only symboli- cally. The meaning of hope here is tied to the Palestinian culture of suwmiid, a term that literally means “steadfastness” and entered the dictionary of political resistance in the 1970s following the demise of Palestinian hopes for political freedom and self-

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determination.°! The term sumiid conveys the meaning of “being connected to the Palestinian land, to home, and daily life.” To Mary Grey, sumiid not only symbolizes the value of peace, beauty, and joy, but also signifies the community’s suffering, sacri- fice, and struggle against powers of domination. Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer living in Ramallah, calls sumiid the third way situated between acknowledging the occu- pation and choosing to fight against it. Sumiid, in Shehadeh’s words, “is watching your home turn into a prison. You, samid, choose to stay in that prison, because it is your home, and because you fear if you leave, your jailer will not allow you to return.” The auto- erotic practices of Palestinian prisoners, who are situated between accepting the Israeli jailer and rebelling against him, can be read as biopolitical actions of sumid. Although “autoeroticism” causes a deadly “waste and a wounding of the self by the self,” as sug- gested by Derrida,“it is equally important to note that the prisoners’ autoerotic actions develop as a reproductive practice that adds another level to Palestinian sumiid; it is a spilling/writing for the future, for presence and resistance. Children who are born outside Israeli prisons and nicknamed ‘ambassadors of hope and freedom,””°° bear the respon- sibility for future confrontations with the Israeli occupation.

In an interview with a Palestinian ex-prisoner who fathered his second child while serv- ing fourteen years in Israeli jails, T. F. narrates that the idea of smuggling sperm to his wife in the city of Jenin in the West Bank “was not taken seriously by his family and friends who argued that this act might bring shame to us.” Following an increase in IVF treatments in the West Bank in the last two years, “my family,” says T. F., “seems to have accepted this idea and supported me throughout the whole process.” T. F. mentions that his action must be looked at as “‘a national story of success, especially because he faced many difficulties before he finally managed to smuggle his sperm.” Like other Palestinian prisoners whose acts are regarded as forms of national resistance, T. F. exemplifies how personal and political desires are essentially tied. In fact, mastur- bation and smuggling for Palestinian prisoners are radically and politically charged.

Derrida’s Of Grammatology reminds us of Jacque Rousseau’s comparison between the personal and the political. Rousseau shows that the opposite dualism of personal and political and/or self and society is perfectly natural, but that nature is a pure, self-sustained system that needs no supplement is a foregrounding fact. Derrida, however, writes that this dualism must be renegotiated on the basis that private and public discourses are, indeed, intertwined. In liberal political systems, for instance, domestic practices and teachings such as loyalty and commitment are supposedly significant to the rise and stability of healthy political communities. Derrida seems to suggest that civil societies arise from the simple notion that nature is insufficient and “requires supplementation because it is incomplete in itself.”°’ To Derrida, masturbation and self-pleasure, which go against nature in Rousseau’s erotic world, follow a similar logic: for Rousseau mas- turbation is a great erotic experience that is no less natural than heteroerotic relations because it stems from natural desires and turns into “the only means of experiencing sat- isfaction completely and directly.”°* Like Rousseau’s un-natural experience where one gives oneself to internal pleasure, Palestinian prisoners’ private act of masturbation is gratifying. Yet the prisoners’ autoerotic experience is also tied to an external motive within which the political self is made present. If Rousseau was an extravagant dweller in an “ideal world which my fertile imagination soon peopled with beings after my own heart,” the prisoners’ acts of masturbation unveil a process of national imagination

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that involves the pleasure of victory over jailors and incarceration. Derrida writes that despite Rousseau’s enjoyment of beautiful imaginary sensations, he “lived in anguish.” Masturbators, like Rousseau, live with the internal responsibility of “the threat of castra- tion that always accompanies it [masturbation]. Pleasure is thus lived as the irremediable loss of the vital substance, as exposure to madness and death.”’° Masturbation inside Israeli jails, on the other hand, carries singular symbolisms of life, hope, and freedom, resulting in the continuous production of politically stable communities that bolster the Palestinian nationalistic individual living under Israeli occupation. Whereas Rousseau’s autoerotism is a private form of pleasure and responsibility, Palestinian pris- oners’ autoerotic acts can turn into public celebrations of familial success and national pride.

Derrida refers to the postcard as an imaginary medium of sperm/child communication; Palestinian prisoners literally make use of various ways to deliver sperm. Donnison reports that Palestinian women “bring the sperm to his [doctor] clinic in anything from small bottles to plastic cups.”’! Indeed, smuggling sperm in plastic vessels articulates the symbolic value of prisoners’ masturbation, which metaphorically signifies the trans- ference of the child across the green line. The semen that turns into a full-grown baby, provided that artificial insemination is successful, is the starting point of the migration of children. The wives’ concealment of their imprisoned husbands’ sperm invokes the imagery of children fleeing the confining space of Israeli prisons. If sperm that is success- fully smuggled and used by wives for insemination becomes a fetus and later a baby, it is fair to say that smuggling symbolically transforms into a process of migration. However, this process could entail carriage or miscarriage; in the latter case, the semen may die dur- ing border crossing. Salem Abu Khaizaran, a fertility doctor who has been helping these wives, says that “sperm can survive for up to 48 hours before it is frozen in order to carry out IVF treatment.”’*Abu Khaizuran’s words show that the preservation of semen and the speed of its delivery are medical necessities for the procreation of healthy children. At a wider political level, the prisoners’ semen is a significant bionational supplementation that makes possible the migration of children into a state of political presence and stability.

Palestinian prisoners’ reliance on masturbation and private messengers, mainly wives, to dispatch their sperm receptacles across the border has emphasized an ideal supplement of natural coitus, and thus a new form of sexual representation and gender relations. That prisoners cannot be physically intimate with their wives in a Palestinian society that fore- grounds the presence of the man within the family circle as the speaking authority under- mines the patriarchal role, in favor of the new dialogic of masturbation and/or writing. Whilst the Palestinian father “represented the top of the hierarchy, with central decision- making authority,”’? Cheryl Rubenberg suggests that women and their actions entail “silence and total seclusion.”’* Rubenberg argues that the authority of speech has con- ventionally emerged as a masculine quality. This masculine culture of speech, however, is undermined by the primacy of written sources in the telling of history that privileges colonial archives at the expense of Palestinian oral history. Rashid Khalidi suggests that history is mostly written about strong nations, and it is the views of those who write and read well that historians record. Historians’ unresponsive attitude to the oral his- tory of illiterate Palestinians, which “complicated the modern historiography of Palestine,” is not the only reason for the displacement of the Palestinian narrative of

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historical conflict in favor of the Israeli archive. Khalidi points out that “much source material for writing the modern history of the Palestinian Arabs has been lost, destroyed, or incorporated into archives in Israel.””° The denial of the Palestinian spoken narration of the history of their struggle against Israel in favor of Israeli archival power means that Palestinian oral history, which is traditionally designated as masculine, cannot then be taken as serious. If speaking can thus turn into a culture of silent historical suffering and powerlessness as Palestinian patriarchs are dispossessed of agency, women’s silence logically becomes a normative gender dynamic. In the context of masturbation, which is a silent form of rebellion, the wives of Palestinian prisoners reclaim power as active agents of history in which their published written stories of sperm smuggling on media chal- lenges the Israeli colonial narrative and decolonizes the oral male history of resistance. If “the ‘culture of silence’ insures that women’s pain—physical and psychological— will be suffered without complaint . . . that the female ‘self’ is least prioritized,””° then masturbation by male prisoners becomes a form of silent and secluded pain that insures aless masculine status. Masturbation into plastic vessels becomes an unconscious process of humiliation for prisoners. In psychological terms, the act of masturbation incurs not only shame but also anxiety. Sigmund Freud makes links between masturbation and the anxiety of castration as a possible punishment,’’ hence the prisoners’ internal fear of self-consumption and wasted masculinity owing to their incapability of performing sexual intercourse with their wife. Here, it is also worth mentioning that masturbation evolves as a method of psychological humiliation where prisoners are “forced to mastur- bate in front of interrogators.””® Whether prisoners masturbate voluntarily or involun- tarily, masturbation remains