A poignant story

The majority of Gaza’s frozen embryos have been destroyed

Arwa Mahdawi

If you, or someone you love, has ever had fertility issues, you will know just how heavy an emotional toll they can take. IVF, in particular, is not easy. You have to inject yourself with hormones. Then you undergo anaesthesia and have an operation to retrieve the eggs. Then the embryos are made. Finally, you implant the embryos. It’s a long, expensive and involved process that can take a physical and emotional toll. At the end, you hope it’ll all be worth it. At the end, you hope there will be a baby.

For many families in Gaza, those hopes were permanently wiped out by one Israeli missile strike. In December, an Israeli shell, possibly provided by the US, hit Gaza City’s largest fertility clinic, the Al Basma IVF centre. The explosion, according to a Reuters piece that came out this week, “blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit”. More than 4,000 embryos were destroyed, along with 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs.

One single strike. That’s all it took. One single strike and thousands of potential lives were wiped out. For at least half of the couples who were patients at the clinic, many of whom had saved up for years to afford treatments, those embryos were their last chance to get pregnant, Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, the obstetrician who established the clinic told Reuters.

Why would Israel bomb a fertility center? The Israeli military’s press desk told Reuters that they would look into it. Judging by Israel’s record of looking into its own actions, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for answers. No doubt they’ll just say they received special intelligence that at least 25% of those embryos were going to grow up to be terrorists. Whatever they say, if they bother saying anything, it won’t make a difference to the Biden administration. Israeli leaders have made a litany of genocidal statements and the US government is still sending an never-ending supply of unconditional aid.

Just stop for a moment and imagine if this had happened in Israel or in any other country considered a western ally. Imagine if 4,000 Israeli embryos had been destroyed. Imagine the justifiable outrage, the immense sadness, it would have caused. This story, however, which has taken months to come out, has barely seemed to register. And why would it? As many western leaders have made clear, they simply do not think of Palestinians as human.

Unless I’ve missed it, the anti-abortion crowd has also been weirdly silent about this story. You’d think the people who have said they believe embryos are “extrauterine children” might muster a little outrage at this mass murder. But, no, evangelical Christians are too busy cheering on Israel in the hope that all the bloodshed will bring about the rapture and the second coming of Jesus Christ. More than half of US evangelicals have said they support Israel’s existence because it is important for fulfilling the end times prophecy.

I don’t know if the end times are coming, but Gaza certainly looks apocalyptical. Every day, the news seems to get more harrowing. More than 32,000 Palestinians are dead, including an estimated 6,000 mothers; UN Women reports that 19,000 children have been orphaned. Unicef estimates that a thousand children in Gaza have become amputees since October. “This is the biggest cohort of pediatric amputees in history,” a London-based surgeon told the New Yorker. Not a single university is still standing and the vast majority of schools have been destroyed. More than 10,000 children are dead. Malnutrition will rob an entire generation of its future.

“This is not a normal war,” one physician said. “The war in Ukraine has killed 500 kids in two years and the war in Gaza has killed over 10,000 in less than five months. We have seen wars before but this is something that is a dark stain on our shared humanity.”

This point can’t be stressed enough. What is happening is not normal. Bombing fertility clinics is not normal. Don’t let any of this become normalized.