By Ilya Meyer
In June 2004, Swedish mother Elizabeth Krantz's five children were kidnapped from Sweden by Krantz's estranged Palestinian husband Ismail Nowajah. The children -- Adam, Amina, Zakarias, Miriam and Sara -- range in age from six to sixteen. They were taken to the Gaza Strip against their will and in contravention of Swedish law and have since been incarcerated in separate locations. Their mother, from a small town outside Gothenburg on Sweden's west coast, has custody of the children, with visitation rights granted to her estranged husband.
Ismail Nowajah says he disapproves of the upbringing his children were getting in Sweden, where they were born, and that he wishes to bring them up according to a stricter Islamic code, which he says cannot be done in Sweden but is possible in Gaza. Nowajah has signaled, however, that he is willing to release the children back into the custody of their mother in exchange for five million Swedish kronor (about 720,000 US dollars).
The children are Swedes. They are unfamiliar with Arab culture and have no knowledge of the Arabic language. They are thus unable to communicate in the environment into which they have been forcibly placed. They are denied schooling, and 15-year-old Miriam suffers from an unusual form of diabetes -- type 1 -- that requires special medication, treatment that has thus far been denied her by her father.
"A Sensitive Issue"
Commenting on the case, the Swedish Foreign Office noted that the situation is highly sensitive since the children have dual nationality -- Swedish and Palestinian -- and that according to Palestinian law the children are wards of their father.
This is a remarkable point of view, on several accounts. First of all, Swedish law applies to Swedish citizens, and in fact the children were kidnapped from Sweden. No other legislation is relevant until the children have been returned home. The father is in breach of Swedish law for a crime committed on Swedish soil.
The second consideration is the illogic of the Foreign Office's standpoint: the children do not - and in point of law cannot - have dual nationality. There is no country called Palestine. While the emergence of such a country may well be a highly desirable goal for reasons of geopolitical interest, Palestine does not exist today. The children therefore do not have dual nationality, and Sweden accordingly need take no such consideration into account.
"Citizens" Yet "Stateless": Politics at Play
Even more remarkable about Sweden's claim that the children Palestinian citizens is Sweden's role in providing asylum to countless Palestinians as "stateless refugees". Apparently, these people are either stateless and nationals - depending on the political capital at stake.
In the most recent twist in the plight of Krantz's children, they have been enrolled in a refugee program by UNWRA. Sweden is one of the largest per capita contributors to UN aid in the Gaza Strip. Now Sweden finds itself in the remarkable position of paying to maintain as refugees Swedish citizens who are held against their will in Gaza.
It was not until she packed her bags and flew to Israel on her own that Elisabeth Krantz was finally able to see her children, albeit for only a few short hours before she was forced to leave. Their desperate plea: "When are we coming home?"
Mr Jan Norlander of the Swedish Foreign Office repeated most recently in a radio interview on November 15 that his staff must tread carefully in this highly volatile area, as they do not want to expose either themselves or Elisabeth Krantz to danger. This is not an argument calculated to put Elisabeth's mind at ease. Krantz herself took the risk that the Swedish consular staff are paid to take on her behalf when she visited her children. At no time have the Swedish consular staff attempted to visit the children to monitor their condition, and they never offered Krantz the opportunity to do so.
No Help From Official Sweden
Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds visited Ramallah in September 2004. Freivalds maintains that she received assurances from Yasser Arafat that he had dealt with the issue and that the children would soon be on their way home. That was then, Arafat is no more, and the children are still imprisoned without access to medical care or schooling.
Elisabeth Krantz contacted Swedish MP Yvonne Ruwaida -- herself a Palestinian -- in the hope that Ms Ruwaida might be inclined to have the matter cleared up. MP Ruwaida never acknowledged receipt of the letter. There was some hope that Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson's attendance at Yasser Arafat's funeral might assist in opening doors to the Palestinian hierarchy. After all, PM Persson was accompanied by Arafat's lifelong friend, former Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson. The two dignitaries landed in Cairo and, like most of the non-Arab participants, witnessed the proceedings from afar, returning to Sweden within two hours of touching down. So from Swedish officialdom, there appears to be little hope.
End Financial Aid. Immediately
There remains one highly effective means of persuading the Palestinian Authority to abide by its legal and moral obligations: Sweden must stop all financial aid to the PA until the children have been returned to their mother. While financial aid can always be restored, the children's stolen youth cannot.
The unfortunate reality is that the Swedish government finds itself at a formative stage in pursuit of a Palestinian state. It appears the Swedish authorities will go to any length to avoid jeopardizing the situation, while the government carves out a role for itself as a peace-broker and nation-maker.
The welfare of five Swedish children and their Swedish mother simply gets in the way of Swedish political ambition. The children have been sold for political coinage -- and Swedish citizens are paying for the children's incarceration with their own money.
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