Swedish children for sale in Gaza

The welfare – perhaps even the lives – of 5 Swedish children is being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Swedish mother Elizabeth Krantz’s five children were kidnapped from Sweden back in June 2004 by her 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.

Holding children as ransom

Ismail Nowajah says he disapproves of the upbringing the 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. However, he has signalled that he is willing to release the children back into the custody of their mother against a payment of 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 with the surroundings into which they have been forcibly thrust. They are being 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 the wards of their father.

This is a remarkable point of view on several accounts. Firstly because Swedish law applies to Swedish citizens, the more so since they 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 in Sweden.

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 today exist. The children therefore do not have dual nationality, and Sweden accordingly need take no such consideration into account.

“Citizens” – yet “stateless”: a matter of expediency
What is even more remarkable about Sweden’s claim that the children are citizens of a country called Palestine, is that Sweden at the same time provides asylum to countless Palestinians as “stateless refugees”. They are apparently both stateless and nationals – depending on the political niceties at stake.

In the most recent twist to the plight of the five kidnapped children, they have now been enrolled by UNWRA as refugees. Sweden is one of the largest per capita contributors to UN aid in the Gaza Strip, and is now in the remarkable position of witnessing the kidnapping of its own citizens from the country of their birth, seeing them incarcerated against their will in a foreign country – which according to the political needs of the day either exists as a legal entity or does not – and then paying from its own coffers to maintain them as refugees in their place of imprisonment.

Absurd logic
The situation is a logic-defying absurdity that has been further exacerbated by the impenetrable wall of obstruction thrown in the face of the children’s mother by the Swedish Foreign Office. It was not until she packed her bags and flew to Israel on her own cognizance that Elisabeth Krantz was finally able to meet her children, albeit for only a few short hours before she was forced to leave them again. Their desperate plea: “When are we coming home?”

Mr Jan Norlander of the Swedish Foreign Office repeated most recently in a radio interview on Monday 15th November that his staff have to tread most carefully in this highly volatile area, as they do not want to expose either themselves or Elisabeth Krantz to danger. That is not an argument that is calculated to put Elisabeth’s mind at ease. She took the risk that the Swedish consular staff are paid to take on her behalf and visited her children. At no time have the Swedish consular staff attempted to visit the children themselves to monitor their condition, or offered their mother the opportunity to do so.

No help from official Sweden
Swedish Foreign Minister Ms Laila Freivalds visited Ramallah back in September 2004 and 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, Mr Arafat is no more, and the children are still imprisoned without access to either medical care or schooling. Elisabeth Krantz contacted Swedish MP Yvonne Ruwaida – herself a Palestinian – in the hope that Ms Ruwaida might feel a strong inclination to have the matter cleared up smoothly and swiftly. MP Ruwaida did not even acknowledge 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. However, they 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.

Stop financial aid. Immediately.
There remains just 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. Financial aid can always be returned, the children’s stolen youth cannot.

There is only one effective means of persuading Sweden to adopt this measure – foreign media attention. The foreign press are invited to tackle the Swedish authorities on this issue to help bring the situation to a swift resolution. Past experience reveals that Sweden is highly sensitive to the foreign media spotlight.

The fact is that the Swedish government’s vision for a future Palestinian state is at a formative stage. It appears the Swedish authorities will go to any length to avoid jeopardizing the delicate balance 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 is simply getting in the way of Swedish political ambition. The children have been sold for political coin – and Swedish citizens are paying for the children’s incarceration with monetary coin.