Rachel Cohen was praying at her son’s grave when a call on her mobile phone brought news that she had been awaiting for four years. An Israeli court had cleared the way for her to become a grandmother.
The legal decision is unprecedented because her son, Keivin, who was shot dead by a sniper in Gaza in 2002, never knew the woman who will become the mother of his child. She was selected by a family charity and Private Cohen’s family.
A sample of the 20-year-old soldier’s sperm was taken after his death. His parents, who left Iran for Israel when Keivin was 5, petitioned a family court in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, “to fulfill his desire to start a family” even though Private Cohen had never made an official request for such a judicial step.
Cohen said that she was acting as her son would have wished. “Every time I go to his grave and touch his cold tombstone I tell myself how wonderful it would be to hold a warm child in my arms instead,” she said. “For Keivin it was his soul’s desire to have children.”
Cohen said that she was guided in her decision by her dead son. “An hour after being told he had been killed I took his picture and started talking to him. I asked him, ‘Where are all the children you wanted?’ then looked at the picture and heard him saying, ‘Mum, it’s not too late. There is something you can take from me’.
“Then it came to me — ‘Your sperm, that’s what you want me to take from you’. Right there, I asked the officers who came to visit to make sure his sperm be kept.”
The family was assisted in its campaign by New Family, an Israeli NGO that described the ruling as a dramatic development for those who wish to make a “biological will”. A year later the family approached a medical sperm bank seeking permission to use it for insemination. When the request was turned down New Family began a legal action that concluded successfully for the family this week. There was a problem for a while in that the Attorney-General said that the only person who could ask permission for this was a spouse. Private Cohen wasn’t married and he had not prepared a biological will, but the family had testimony, including video recordings, in which he expressed his desire to have children.
Irit Rosenblum, of New Family, said: “The parents felt it was their mission to fulfill his wish. They had to go through psychological tests and then the next hurdle was to find a mother. It took a year and a half but we found one.
“There is a legally drafted contract between the mother and Keivin’s parents guaranteeing that their only responsibility is to be the grandparents of the child when he or she is born.”