“In what language does a child cry?”- Alice Sahar
I am an anomaly of a broken adoption system–because I got out. I am writing today to help save the children still in bondage, doomed to be orphans forever unless we take action.
Had I been born a few years later than I was, I would still be an orphan, with absolutely no hope of adoption—all because of the place I was born. Believe it or not, that place is Bethlehem, right there in the heart of the Holy Land, where the most unholy of situations occurs for orphans. You see, I am Palestinian by birth. Governmentally speaking, that means nothing since Palestine is not a recognized state. I am American by naturalization. I was one of the “handful of cases” ever processed for an international adoption from Palestine, according to a U.S. Department of State adoption expert. The early part of my story is too common all over Palestine, where children are basically forbidden from adoption, held hostage both by their own country, and by the United States. The entire situation is a tragedy of injustice, which is more suitably labeled a crime against humanity than a simple political or religious issue.
In my own case, I was born to a teenage mother, raped one day in her small Palestinian village—by a priest, no less. She was “sent to live with the nuns” until she gave birth, which is also common. She was allowed to stay with me for a 40 day period, after which she was forced to place me for adoption. A single Palestinian mother is unheard of in that culture, both then and now. I was placed in the orphanage, which was part of the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, where I was born. The orphanage is called La Crèche, which means manger. But though there is room in the manger for these babies, like the days of old, there is no place for the young Middle Eastern child to call home if he is born outside of wedlock. La Crèche, and other homes, will welcome these children with open arms, but those precious lives are never set free to live fully because of a repressive culture and unjust laws. This exigent crisis requires immediate action; every person reading this can do something.
Today when a child is brought to La Crèche—often directly off the streets—unless he or she has a marking of Christianity (as simple as a cross drawn on the arm or on his clothes, for example), or the child can otherwise be positively identified as coming from a Christian birth mother, the child must, according to the laws, be deemed a Muslim. And what that means is that the child is never, not ever under any circumstances, allowed to be fully adopted and know the fullness of living in being part of a family. He or she will forever be a “second-class citizen,” as is widely known in the culture.
Islam has a provision called kafala guardianship, in which another Islamic family can pseudo-adopt the child. It pretends to be pro-orphan care, but when you read carefully you see the second-class status is profound. According to the Qur’an, the child is not allowed to have the family name or birthright; in fact, the Qur’an says outright, “.… Allah has not made your adopted sons your true sons. That is merely your saying by your mouths…” (33:4). What this actually is, is glorified foster care, but unlike traditional foster care, the child has no hope to either be reunited with his mother or be legally adopted by his family; he is not entitled to the family name or birthright. One official explained to me that as an orphan who is not legally adopted, the child is always seen as a second-class citizen in the culture, and even growing up and wanting to be married, he has a harder time because families want a “full-blooded” man or woman to marry their child. It sounds like something from an antiquated novel, but it is life today in Palestine.
A Christian child is in a slightly different position. If the child can be identified as Christian, he is technically eligible for adoption. But that technicality can also be prohibitive. First, since an orphan is not likely under any circumstances to be adopted within Palestine, international adoption is the only viable option. And while the United States is only one of many nations that allows adoptions, recent statistics show that 46% of all international adoption are initiated in the United States. And that’s where we must see change.
The problem is complex, involving the following:
- Palestine is not a recognized nation; thus, there are no civil birth certificates available for children, which then results in prohibiting most adoptions internationally.
- Due to the complex political situation, the media teaches the United States to see Palestine as an enemy, a land full of terrorists. Rarely is the West Bank leadership distinguished from Gaza. However, Gaza is ruled by the terrorist group, Hamas, who does not rule at all in the West Bank region. This continuing demonization of Palestine does not endear people to seek children from this region as they might from Africa or China.
- Clearly the problem is complicated in the religious sense, as Sharia laws prevail even though the child has been rejected by his Muslim family. Since Islam is the dominant religion, and there is no recognized civil government, every child is, by default, labeled as a Muslim child within days of arriving at orphanages. Therefore, virtually every orphan in Palestine is doomed to be raised as a Muslim, never allowed to have a family of his or her own.
Despite the complexity of the situation, there are viable solutions, and that is part of why I am writing this letter.
First, we must open the discussion to seeing these children as the humans they are, rather than products of a race or religion. Our current anti-Middle Eastern immigrant climate is deeply damaging to the hope of these orphans. They have no opportunity to have a family, apart from the few who could be adopted. However, our laws under the Hague Adoption Convention, which were designed for the protection of children, actually further doom these innocent victims. We must allow for exceptions for children who are stateless. We must allow for religious birth certificates to suffice for the birth certificate requirements. Sworn affidavits by adoption officials and licensed orphanages would help verify the veracity of the eligibility of these children for adoption. The orphanage where I was is run by the Latin Patriarchate, the Catholic church in the region. It is a legitimate provider with all appropriate checks and balances in place, with proper documentation—but only religious, since it is in Palestine where they cannot gain civil birth certificates in order to facilitate adoption. If they acquire a civil birth certificate for a Christian baby, they enter a Catch-22. It is a Muslim-dominated region; therefore, as soon as a birth certificate is granted, the child is considered Muslim—and then is no longer eligible for adoption since there is no adoption in Islam. Thus, a religious birth certificate in addition to this sort of verification should be allowed to substitute when it is literally impossible to have a civil birth certificate. We cannot neglect children simply because adults are enmeshed in a battle over religion and land. We cannot surrender our children into a religion that forbids them from being a first-class citizen of a family. It is reprehensible is it to doom these innocent victims to a life of always being an orphan, especially when we consider that our political power and influence could offer hope and a way out of this life!
As a nation, the United States wields great political power. Palestine depends on foreign aid, and this is where we can be part of a solution. Until recently, the nation of Jordan allowed for honor killing. For those unfamiliar with the practice, it means that in a case like mine, where my mother was pregnant out of wedlock, her family was allowed to kill her to “avenge the family honor” or a woman who committed adultery could be burned or stoned for it. This horrific law stayed on the books until the political pressure and threats of losing money became an issue. Suddenly, after it was publicly exposed, Jordan outlawed honor killing. Did the heart of the officials change? Of course not. But suddenly their interpretation of Sharia law changed. That can happen here, but until there is a public outcry and threats of financial consequences for the egregious human rights violations, children will continue to suffer. This is a case where wielding political power could cause good to come, and it is our responsibility as civilized people to address the humanitarian wrongs we see. While I realize that it would be nearly impossible to work with an organization like Hamas to free Gazan orphans, a place Americans are not even allowed to travel, the same is not true for the millions in the West Bank, subject to the Palestinian Authority. Their attitudes may never change, but their need for positive publicity—especially when much of what happens in Palestine is already misunderstood—and money may be the impetus needed to free children—both Christian and Muslim. Why should a child abandoned by a Muslim family, rejected forever, be forced to live according to the laws of a religion which give him no chance to build a successful life? If his family will keep him, the family has every right to raise that child in its own religion, but just as everywhere else in the world where a child is placed for adoption, parents forfeit rights, and that includes to dictate the child’s future religion. Sharia law should not apply to a child who has been rejected by the religion. This double standard is a human rights violation and must end. The only hope for this to change is political pressure and threats of diminished humanitarian aid to the leaders who makes these laws. We must take action to ensure this change.
We are Republican and Democrat, Christian and atheist, but we are all humans who all should have a right to live and thrive. As a nation we denounce human rights abuses—and yet we continue to allow laws that forever doom orphans to not have a right to a family. The United States is a world leader and our politics and beliefs should have no bearing on how we respond to the most innocent and voiceless of them all.
This letter is only a beginning step, but it will be the first of however many steps are required. If necessary, I will live the rest of my life and spend all my available energy to fight for and see freedom for these orphans. If I am addressing moral people with a conscience for humanity, this will not be a lifelong fight. I hope you will join me in ensuring it is not.
If you are a legislator, make this an issue. If you are a journalist or blogger, write about it. If you have a social media account, share this letter and continue to make posts. This is the type of war that will be won in the media. Just as the honor killing laws were reversed by negative publicity, so can these laws and traditions be reversed.
Since America is a friend to Israel, and Israel and Palestine are not friends, this has hindered us from being involved in the most important of fights. These children are not threats to anyone. They are not part of our political battle, and to make them a part of it is immoral. America should call on its friendship with Israel to set these orphans free. Our pull on the international stage is powerful, and if we don’t use it, we are as guilty as those who directly hurt children. Silence speaks volumes. You have read this. If you remain silent, you have made a choice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9