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The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 157

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 157, August 18, 2022

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we recap Tuesday’s lunch discussion and book signing event with Uyghur-American activist Nury Turkel regarding his powerful recent memoir No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs. Meanwhile, in our news headlines: Israel admits that one of its air strikes killed 5 children in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, observers express alarm as women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab is sentenced to a term of 34 years in prison by Saudi Arabian authorities, and Iran’s response to the European Union’s final draft text aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal offers hope but some concerns remain.

NIF Event

This week, the National Interest Foundation (NIF) hosted a lunch discussion and book signing event with Nury Turkel, Uyghur-American activist and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, regarding his powerful recent memoir No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs. Mr. Turkel discussed his personal experiences, China’s egregious violations against the Uyghurs, and his work to address the humanitarian crisis. Turkel, who himself was born in a re-education camp at the height of China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution, has had a first-hand account into China’s human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities. The event was moderated by Ms. Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, Senior Advisor and Editorial Director at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Mr. Turkel informed the attendees of how China has been able to round up and bring Uyghurs into its internment camps, describing the use of software and cameras to locate and detain them. He pointed out that at the start of this mass campaign, like the Nazi genocide of Jews during the Holocaust, the Chinese government would round up Uyghur intellectuals such as university professors, religious leaders, and cultural curators. Turkel described the rhetoric China has used both domestically within the country and to the international community. Phrases such as “re-education” or “we are transforming Uyghurs into normal human beings” have been regrettably put forth in an attempt to degrade the minority group and justify their detainment. He went on to explain that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has become draconian in its genocide of the Uyghurs, with one reason being the perceived “threat” that they pose to the “Han-Chinese” identity that the CCP has strived for, as well as a concern over democratic ideals such as religious freedom and political freedom of expression coming to disturb CCP control.

Turkel then proceeded to highlight the brutal actions that have been taken as part of the genocidal campaign. One often-seen theme is the breaking of the family unit and violations of personal security and human rights. Chinese authorities have sent Han-Chinese into the homes of Uyghurs to monitor and report behavior, and forced family members to spy on each other while living off of the resources of those Uyghur homes during their periods of monitoring. Mr. Turkel also delved into the systematic sexual abuse towards Uyghur women. During the question-and-answer period, one inquiry was asked regarding why there has not been more widespread international condemnation of the genocide. Mr. Turkel explained how China has blocked official condemnation in international organizations such as the United Nations, while also gaining significant levels of influence in these bodies. The Chinese government has manipulated the rhetoric over the genocide into “the United States making an issue” rather than allowing attention to fall on the behavior and the human rights violations.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Turkel pointed to the successes and failures of the United States and the general international response to the Uyghur genocide. While the U.S. has engaged in some efforts to condemn and sanction China, Turkel highlighted the need for more action regarding this subject and a coordinated pressure campaign against the Chinese government for its abusive behavior. Furthermore, Mr. Turkel called on everyone to speak out and raise awareness, citing a lack of deserving coverage in mainstream media on the subject.

To watch the entire event on our YouTube page, please click here.

News Headlines

Israeli Air Strike on Gazan Refugee Camp

Israeli officials have been forced to admit responsibility after initially attempting to place blame on a Palestinian militant group. (Photo from AFP)

Israel Admits That One of Its Air Strikes Killed 5 Children in the Jabalia Refugee Camp in Gaza

In stark contradiction with previous statements by senior military figures initially attempting to place blame on a Palestinian militant group, Israeli officials have admitted that Israel was responsible for an air strike in Gaza that killed 5 children. The victims, all of whom were between the ages of 4 and 16, were killed in an Israeli air raid on the Fallujah cemetery in the Jabalia refugee camp. The attack was part of the recent 3-day Israeli assault on the besieged enclave which killed at least 49 people including 17 children, and wounded 360 others. Social justice and human rights activists lament that these types of destructive Israeli air raids have become far too commonplace for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It is also regrettable that those in refugee camps are especially vulnerable and susceptible to the Israeli bombardment campaigns. Furthermore, observers point out that it is incredibly reprehensible that Israel continues to launch air strikes on such densely-populated areas, where a vast majority of people are civilians. Perhaps most telling is the fact that many were not surprised at the admission of what was already suspected, demonstrating that there is a consistent pattern and track record of Israeli forces engaging in such heinous behavior.

Cousins Jamil Al-Din Nijm, Jamil Ihab Nijm, Mohammad Salah Nijm, and Hamed Haidar Nijm, along with their friend Nathmi Abu Karsh, were killed in the Israeli air strike while they sat next to the Nijms’ grandfather’s grave in a cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli officials originally blamed the attack on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group, a tactic often deployed to try and absolve culpability for the inexcusable killing of children and other civilians. This has been outlined as a longstanding trend, as Israel made similar unsubstantiated claims after the murder of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. In the case of Abu Akleh, multiple independent investigations by an array of reputable outlets found that a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired the bullet that killed her. The Israeli government had also attempted to claim that the bullet came from crossfire with Palestinian militants, with this later being found to have been physically impossible.

In this instance of the Israeli air strike on the Gazan refugee camp, Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed how certain military officials had been giving accounts which contradicted those from other officials. Fair and impartial analysts have highlighted how blaming other groups for their own egregious human rights crimes has been an Israeli foreign policy staple. They often only walk back their claims if independent groups prove their falsehoods, but at other times they even double down and accuse these entities of bias.

Israel’s continued aerial assaults have been understandably denounced by social justice activists as deplorable and only serving to further fuel animosity. The number of civilian fatalities, including children, is unacceptable. Israel has an alarming history of conducting air raids like this that result in an abundance of civilian deaths. If past incidents are any indication, it is likely that there will be a lack of accountability for these actions. An absence of tangible punitive measures has allowed Israel to commit human rights violations with impunity. While rebuking language is often used, particularly among international organizations such as the United Nations, veto power prevents any concrete repercussions.

Imprisonment Sentence of Salma al-Shehab

Salma al-Shehab is a Saudi PhD student at the University of Leeds, and was detained last year while on vacation back in Saudi Arabia. (Photo from Reuters)

Observers Express Alarm as Women’s Rights Activist Salma al-Shehab is Sentenced to a Term of 34 Years in Prison by Saudi Arabian Authorities

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have drawn serious concern over the imprisonment sentence of Salma al-Shehab. The Saudi women’s rights activist and PhD student at the University of Leeds in England was detained back in January of last year while on vacation in Saudi Arabia, mere days before she was set to return to the United Kingdom. Particularly alarming is the outrageous “basis” of the sentence and the severity of it, as al-Shehab was given a term of 34 years in prison – the longest ever for a women’s rights defender – for social media activism on human rights issues including the retweeting of posts by Saudi dissidents and activists calling for the release of political prisoners in the country. Analysts and observers have pointed to how U.S. President Biden’s recent trip to meet with Saudi officials in Riyadh may have empowered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to escalate his crackdown on dissent in the Gulf nation. MBS and Saudi authorities continue to engage in this type of behavior while falsely boasting to the world that they are improving the state of human rights, and it is feared that the sense of legitimacy given to officials there could pave the way for more blatant abuses and violations like this.

In the lead-up to President Biden’s planned mid-July trip to the Middle East, which included a visit with Saudi officials in Riyadh, human rights activists and Saudi dissidents had warned that it could embolden authorities to intensify their crackdown on freedoms in the country. As it is, government critics are often forced into exile and unlike citizens of other nations, they do not possess the ability to engage in safe and peaceful activism at home. Thus, it was suspected that a Biden trip to meet with Saudi officials may worsen circumstances even further and result in more flagrant human rights violations. President Biden’s visit was condemned for breaking a campaign vow to turn Saudi Arabia into an “international pariah” due to its widespread and serious abuses. Critics argued that Biden’s course of action would serve to normalize Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and give off the perception that he could, literally, get away with murder. As such, President Biden’s infamous fist bump with MBS drew particular ire.

The case of activist Salma al-Shehab is especially troubling because it demonstrates how Saudi authorities have increasingly targeted simple social media usage in their crackdown on any form of what they deem to be dissent. Additionally, the arbitrary nature of the spurious charges means that officials can concoct “criminal” accusations at-will if they perceive a threat to their grip on power. This allows them to label the “charges” in a broad and vague manner, using phrasing like they did against al-Shehab where they claimed that she was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts.” These allegations are laughable and would never stand up in a legitimate court of law, but are used by authorities in an attempt to deter dissent and silence criticism – lest an individual end up being subjected to the type of severe imprisonment sentence given to al-Shehab and others.

Human rights activists have voiced unease about the fact that al-Shehab does not appear to be the only victim of a recent dramatic increase in the severity of an imprisonment sentencing. There are credible reports of others who have also faced similar circumstances as al-Shehab, who saw her original sentence of 6 years substantially harshened to 34 years.

Status of Iran Nuclear Deal Revival Talks

Negotiators are optimistic about progress on the Iran nuclear deal revival talks. (Photo from AP)

Iran’s Response to the European Union’s Final Draft Text Aimed at Reviving the 2015 Nuclear Deal Offers Hope but Some Concerns Remain

Iran’s foreign ministry has expressed optimism as “considerable progress” has been made in the months-long talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal was reached in 2015 to limit the nuclear capabilities of Iran and ensure that the country would only use their enriched uranium for energy production and not nuclear weapons creation. Over the preceding week, the European Union (EU) sent Iran what was described as the final draft text. Iran has recently met the deadline for a response to the draft, saying that they still have some reservations with the proposed agreement. During the past few months, Iran has demanded assurances that they will be able to reap the economic benefits of a restored deal. There is understandable apprehension after former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the arrangement back in 2018. According to officials involved in the negotiations, the Iranian reply did not have any further demands with regard to investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the origins of the nuclear materials that inspectors have found at Iranian sites. Iran has objected to this investigation and says that it must be closed if they are to agree to the nuclear deal revival. The EU proposal will allow the investigation to be closed if Iran offers credible answers.

There is currently no confirmation that Iran has accepted the proposed deal. The response delivered by Iranian officials involved in the negotiations suggests that Iran wants to continue negotiating some aspects of the deal’s revival. It will remain to be seen if the European Union will be flexible with their own demands, as they had made it very clear when submitting this draft that it would be their final draft and Iran would either have to accept it or reject it. Even after this clear statement, western officials still seem open to further negotiations, as they are pleased that the Iranian reply does not sound “too inflammatory.”

The United States has also been looking over the final draft text. The U.S. has agreed to the conditions laid out, but have not yet stated if they would be open to further negotiations. U.S. officials have previously said that they are “prepared to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal if Iran does the same.” These recent discussions have so far been the most productive since talks to bring the United States and Iran back into the JCPOA began in April of 2021. The talks have been marred with various disagreements and roadblocks, and many analysts were pessimistic that the deal could be revived.

It is important that this deal be revived to not only prevent any further attainment of nuclear weapons, but also to reinforce the notion that the United States can play a productive and positive role in regional affairs. This would also dissuade America’s rivals, namely China and Russia, from trying to fill a perceived power vacuum in global affairs and diplomacy.