Week of April 29

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his first public appearance in Mosul, Iraq, in July 2014 (left) and in a video released Monday that purported to show him speaking to supporters. Credit: AP/NPR

On Monday, the leader of the Islamic State group appeared for the first time in five years in a video released by the extremist group’s propaganda arm. In the video, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi acknowledged defeat in the group’s last stronghold in Syria but said “in truth, the battle between Islam and its people against the crusaders and their people is a long battle.” The video came about a month after U.S.-backed forces declared the end of ISIS’ territorial control after they took control of Baghouz. Baghdadi is one of the most wanted men in the world. The U.S. is offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to his location. Under his leadership, ISIS has killed thousands of civilians around the world. Baghouz was the last territory the group controlled in Syria or Iraq. Although the group no longer has a physical “caliphate,” the Islamic State is still believed to have thousands of fighters in those countries and Afghanistan, and in other locations in Asia and Africa.

On Tuesday, the acting Israeli Foreign Minister and Transportation Minister Israel Katz said he would use the the occasion of the country’s Independence Day to officially announce plans to name a Jerusalem train stop for the U.S. president Donald Trump. “Here, in the Old City of Jerusalem, we will build the Western Wall & Temple Mount train station,” Katz said in a Tweet. “It will be named after @realDonaldTrump, who made history and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Faithful TeachMideast readers will recall that just last week Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he would would name a community in the Golan Heights after the president, who officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic area that was captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war. Has Trump appreciation in Israel gotten out of hand?

U.S. Senators Mitt Romney and Chris Murphy visiting the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. Credit: Senator Mitt Romney/Twitter

Also on Tuesday, two senior U.S. senators who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East warned that the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan could destabilize Jordan, a key U.S. ally and one of only two Arab countries that has an official peace treaty with Israel. Senators Mitt Romney, a Republican, and and Chris Murphy, a Democrat, who head a Senate subcommittee on the Middle East, paid a joint visit to the region. They met with the Palestinian prime minister, as well as Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi officials, but didn’t meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on vacation with family. Murphy noted that the plan is causing concern in neighboring Jordan, where a majority of the population is of Palestinian origin. “Jordan is as stable as you get in the region,” he said, but the two senators were “worried what the reaction [will be] on the Jordanian street to a peace framework that is not a true framework for discussion. They had major protests there just last year, times are particularly serious in Jordan.”

Findings of the the 11th annual Arab Youth Survey, released April 30th, indicated that youth in the Arab world believe religion plays too big a role in government and society: 50% said the Arab world’s religious values are holding the region back and 79% said the region needs to reform religious institutions. The 2019 survey revealed that young people across the Arab world want to see an end to regional conflicts, such as the Syrian civil war with 73% of those asked saying the conflict should end whether President Bashar Assad stays in power or not. Additionally, the survey data suggest that young Arabs want governments to focus more on economic issues, including jobs and the cost of living, two issues seen as the largest challenges facing the region. The survey findings were based on 3,300 face-to-face interviews conducted January 6-29 by PSB, a research consultancy, with nationals aged 18-24 in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, with a 50/50 male-female split. One key finding showed that, among youth, America’s standing in the region has declined significantly while Russia’s image has been boosted: the share of young Arabs regarding the U.S. as an enemy has almost doubled since 2016, while Russia’s standing has risen, with 64 per cent. Read the full report here.

On Wednesday, Florida Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced legislation promoting human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation. The act, H.R. 2407, amends a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law”, to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. The bill also establishes the “Human Rights Monitoring and Palestinian Child Victims of Israeli Military Detention Fund,” authorizing $19 million annually for non-governmental organization (NGO) monitoring of human rights abuses associated with Israel’s military detention of children. The fund would also authorize qualified NGOs to provide physical, psychological and emotional treatment and support for Palestinian child victims of Israeli military detention, abuse and torture. Roughly 10,000 children have been detained by Israeli security forces since 2000 and subjected to military court proceedings, according to McCollum’s bill. McCollum’s bill faces an uphill battle in Congress where it is likely to face near-uniform opposition from Republicans and is unlikely to garner sufficient Democratic support.

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