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The Middle East is one of the most turbulent regions in the world. Conflicts throughout countries in the region create rampant human rights abuses. In this episode, we are joined by Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. We discuss in-depth the a few of the most problematic conflicts in the Middle East. From the Israel-Palestine disputes to the seemingly never ending war in Yemen we sort through it all. Additionally, Sarah describes the intense problems identity politics has caused throughout the Middle East.
Be sure to tune in for a thought-provoking episode.
Show Notes (abridged script)
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Sarah Leah Whitson’s Background
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle
Sarah has a team of about 35 people covering 19 countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, her division has a team of about ten researchers and three deputy directors to help her oversee all of the staff, who work to investigate and expose human rights abuses in the region. Consequently, they fight for reform and change.
President Trump’s Decision to Move the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem
“The unilateral move [of the US embassy to Jerusalem] is a show of hand on where the United States stands on this matter.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Sarah believes that President Trump’s decision to move the United States’ Embassy to Jerusalem has exposed the US’s “one-sidedness” in regards to the dispute.
“What we advocate is that people under Israeli authority should have their human rights respected.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
A Permanent Occupation
Sarah describes Israel as having a permanent military occupation, either direct or de facto, on Palestinian territories. Such territories include, according to Sarah, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Golden Heights.
From a human rights perspective, Sarah says that all people under Israeli authority ought to be treated equally under the law. She also advocates for an end to the discrimination that Palestinian Muslims and Christians face in the region.
“There should be equality for everyone under Israel’s permanent occupation, there should be justice, and there should be human rights.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Protests Along the Israel-Gaza Border
Sarah describes the protests as not exclusively related to Trump’s move. Rather, she says they are to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Nakba, which is the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands to Gaza. The protests were also to highlight the fact that the people of Gaza live under an extreme policy of closure because of Israel.
“The protests were organized mostly via Facebook.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Sarah describes these protests as being in response to Israel’s occupation of the region. However, she says that Hamas organizing the protests is irrelevant to the human rights situation, because armed groups are not restricted from organizing protests. What matters, Sarah states, is that Israel used aggressive tactics against the protestors.
“Israel used excessive force, excessive violence, to target and kill overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
The war in Yemen
“Saudi Arabia has closed off and taken control over all ports and passages of entry into Yemen.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
The war in Yemen, which has persisted for over three years, has been characterized by widespread, indiscriminate bombardment of the Houthi capitals by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is this [Saudi control of Yemen ports] that has cause the severe humanitarian crisis in the country.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Most recently, Sarah tells how Saudi and Emeriti forces have expressed a desire to take over Hodeidah, a vital port for food and supplies to Yemen. A military attack on the port in Hodeidah would dramatically harm the more than 600,000 civilians who reside near the city.
“Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to protect the civilians who are paying the cost of this mindless war.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
United States Involvement
The United States has been involved in the war in Yemen since it’s beginning under the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration agreed to support Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“The US is the main military supplier to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
The United States has directly involved itself in the war by providing targeting assistance to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, they have provided refueling services for both countries.
Motivations for the War in Yemen
“There has also been quite a bit of documentation of the Houthis using child soldiers.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Yemen are involved in the war to better the human rights situation in their respective countries, according to Sarah.
“They have never once claimed that human rights in Yemen is anywhere on their radar. It would be laughable even if it were because I would suggest they start with the human rights violations in their own countries.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
On Identity Politics
“Identity politics don’t interest me in the way that politics of ideology interests me.” ~Sarah Leah Whitson
We discuss the impact that identity politics has on society not only in the United States, but also in the Middle East.
“Identity politics, ultimately, is something that divides us on the basis of physical differences that are insurmountable.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Identity Politics in the Middle East
Sarah describes seeing the consequences of identity politics reaching their max. She discusses that many of the disputes in the Middle East are because of certain groups claiming perceived suffering.
“Many of the disputes in the Middle East today are fundamentally identity politics…I can go on and on about the lists of identity divisions that are effectively destroying the region right now.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Sarah believes people need to find the principles they can unite around. Thus, she supports the politics of ideology over the politics of identity.
“I think it would be a much more effective tool to identify the principles around which we want to unite and the strategies for coming up with plans to effectuate those principles.” ~ Sarah Leah Whitson
Peace in the Middle East?
Finally we Sarah discusses whether she sees an eventual end to the conflict in the Middle East.
Bills with Luke Scorziell does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice or recommendations. This material is solely intended for educational purposes based on publicly available information and may change at any time. Additionally, this article’s content is a summary of the Interviewee’s comments and, while rephrased by the Author, are not from the Author himself.
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