When 15-year-old Malak al-Khatib was crowned Queen Palestine North America in 2018, she was so proud to wear the sparkly tiara that symbolized her achievement. But when she arrived in the United States in 2019 with aspirations of competing in the international pageant beauty contest, her dreams were cut short and her life was thrown into chaos.
Malak was arrested by immigration authorities, sparking a months-long battle to keep her in the United States. An online petition calling for her release gained 118,000 signatures and her story has inspired many to stand up for her rights as a refugee. Despite a hailstorm of public support, a federal court in Texas ruled that she should be sent back to the Palestinian territory, a decision that a Kansas judge has since overturned.
Malak’s stay in the U.S., unfortunately, coincided with a time of significant violence in both Israel and Palestine, and she was critically injured during a skirmish while she was visiting family in the West Bank. Now, she finds herself in a hospital bed surrounded by bandages, but even that doesn’t guarantee her safety. Malak recently said, “When I’m in the hospital, I feel like I’m in a prison. I’m scared for my life.”
The Palestinian teen’s struggle to find a safe place is a reminder of the consequences of a conflict that continues to destroy lives from both sides. The toll of the violence on Malak — a young girl who was excited to share the sparkly tiara that symbolized her own journey and hopes for the future — is heartbreaking. Hopefully, her courage in speaking up and the many who have joined her fight in solidarity will lead to her peaceful return to the United States or, at least, a safe home.