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For week ended April 09, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 07Apr00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Palestinian Deported From US Seeks Custody Of Son
Jerusalem Post 7Apr00 P2
By Gil Hoffman

BEIT SAHOUR, WEST BANK, ISRAEL -- A Palestinian who joined the LDS Church while living in the United States is seeking any help he can get to get custody of his five-year-old son, Edward. The case of Mohammed Shiabat, 38, is strikingly similar to the high-profile Elian Gonzalez case now being negotiated at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. Like Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Mohammed simply wants to get his son."I ask God and the American government to be merciful to me and give me back my son," Shiabat said yesterday. "Edward is my whole world and he needs my love."

Shiabat left Israel in 1990 after he felt he was being harrassed by Israeli police and had been arrested more than 20 times. "I never attended a rally, I never threw one stone, but I wound up on a list of troublemakers, so I decided to leave," Shiabat said. He got a six-month visa to have oral surgery in Colorado and petitioned for political asylum in the U.S. but later dropped the petition, and decided to move to Australia. But Shiabat got into trouble before he could leave.

Whil staying in Las Vegas, Shiabat joined the LDS Church and married an American woman, Debra. She bore their son, Edward, in February 1995, but died just over a year later, in July 1996 from a blood clot following knee surgery. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service tracked Shiabat down, and sought to deport him. When he refused to sign the documents that would allow his deportation, the INS then jailed him. He says he feared returning to Israel because he thought his family would disown him because he had joined a Christian church.

Because of his troubles with the INS, Shiabat signed an affidavit in 1996 giving custody of Edward to Maureen Caputo, 54, his wife's friend. When he managed to get out of jail, he then asked Caputo to return Edward, but she refused, claiming that he would stay with her until Shiabat "got his life in order."

In recent months, Shiabat has been fighting the INS' deportation order. LDS Church members and other supporters have fought for him to stay in the United States, but he lost the battle in court on March 28th, and was returned to the West Bank March 29th, where he now lives with his family. In spite of his fears, his family welcomed him with open arms, and he is looking for work. He is also seeking custody of his son.

Caputo has vowed to prevent Shiabat from taking Edward with him overseas, "I would fight him right now if I had to, because I don't think this is the right time for Edward to be taken away," she said recently. She claims that Shiabat is using his son to return to the U.S. and that he hardly knows his Father, "I don't think this is the time for Edward to be taken away. It would devastate him," she said. "Daddy is only a word for him. He does not know that man."

But Shiabat says that Edward knows and loves him. He also says he appreciates what Caputo has done for his son, "I love [Caputo] like my own sister," he said, "but I don't want her to come between me and my son." But Caputo told the Las Vegas Review Journal that she is the only caretaker Edward has ever known, and said she will fight to keep custody. When Shiabat last tried to talk with Caputo, she hung up on him, he says.


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