The World Today for February 14, 2019

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Neighbors, Not Friends

King Abdullah II of Jordan recently annulled a lease deal that allowed Israelis to farm two enclaves of his desert kingdom.

The move was especially shocking, reported German newspaper Die Welt (via Worldcrunch), because the king announced his decision on the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who famously shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres after they signed the historic Oslo accords.

Jordan has long been one of the few Middle Eastern countries that is not overtly antagonistic to Israel, a stance that mirrors its generally open society, a rarity in the region. The country has a burgeoning wine industry, for example, even though alcohol is taboo in Islam, wrote the Washington Post. That would be unthinkable in Saudi Arabia.

Attitudes in Jordan are changing, however. Many Jordanians, like most Arabs in the region, disapprove or are at least highly critical of the Jewish state, as the Jerusalem Post detailed in a piece about desecrations of the Israeli flag.

Now, as economic growth stalls in Jordan, the king is under pressure to satisfy his people’s desires to rebuke their neighbor, the Times of Israel noted.

Jordan recently condemned Israeli construction in Jerusalem’s Old City near the Western Wall, which is sacred to Jews, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most important holy sites in Islam, Middle East Monitor reported.

Jordanian officials have also objected to the opening of a new Israeli airport near their border, reported Al Jazeera, saying it would violate the kingdom’s airspace.

It’s no secret why many Jordanians are upset with Israel. The headline of an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz gave voice to the concerns of many people in the region and beyond: “Israel Builds Settlements While Razing Palestinian Homes. If That’s Not Apartheid, What Is?”

The king had better tread carefully, however. His country is dependent on Israel for water and energy. Ironically, the new airport that his officials are criticizing is also likely to carry tourists – including well-heeled Asians – who want to visit Petra, the ancient site that is vital to Jordan’s tourism industry, the South China Morning Post wrote.

The two countries’ ties are more than economic. Both Israel and Jordan want a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both want to fight the Islamic State.

It’s a complex relationship. But, as Robert Frost so eloquently described in his poem “Mending Wall,” neighbors need not be friends to get along.



Alphabet Soup

The European Union is preparing to rewrite its copyright laws to make Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. share revenue with the creative industries that supply most of the core content that appears in their web searches and posts, as well as pull protected content from YouTube and Instagram.

Negotiators from the EU member countries, the European Commission and the European Parliament reached a deal to revise the bloc’s copyright rules after day-long deliberations Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The move comes two years after the commission first argued that a revision of the law was needed to protect publishers, broadcasters and artists. The new rules will require Google and other Internet companies to sign licensing deals with the rights holders of the content they publish online.

Earlier, Google threatened to pull Google News out of Europe if such a law was passed. But for now the company is reviewing the details of the rules before taking action.


Separate and Unequal

On Valentine’s Day, 13 gay couples are filing Japan’s first lawsuits challenging the country’s prohibition against same-sex marriage, arguing that it violates their constitutional right to equality.

Many LGBTQ people in Japan hide their sexuality out of fear of prejudice or ostracism, the Associated Press reported. Transgender people face even greater difficulties, as illustrated by a Supreme Court ruling last month that upheld a law that effectively requires transgender people to be sterilized before they can have their gender changed on official documents, the agency noted.

The cost of silence is that Japan has lagged behind other nations in the fight for LGBTQ rights, said lawmaker Mizuho Fukushima, an expert on gender and human rights issues.

The movement faces stiff opposition from the conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has restarted moral education class at schools in a bid to restore a traditional, paternalistic society.

Nevertheless, a recent poll indicated that more than 70 percent of the 6,229 respondents aged 20-59 support legalizing same-sex marriage.


A Cry for Justice

Indigenous survivors of war crimes committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war filed an injunction Wednesday seeking to block an amnesty bill that would allow the soldiers who raped them – as well as other war criminals — to go free.

Thirty-six women of the Maya Achi group filed the injunction to try to prevent the amnesty bill from moving forward and stopping the ongoing trial against six men accused of raping them in a military base in the early 1980s, Al Jazeera reported. If the amnesty bill passes, their case is among many that will be closed.

Initially proposed in 2017, the bill passed its first reading and vote last month, the news channel said. A second of three readings was on the agenda for the Wednesday session of Congress, but it was bumped from the schedule and a new date has not yet been announced.

The bill would offer a blanket amnesty to more than 30 men convicted of war crimes, as well as those in pre-trial detention, and put a stop to current and future cases.

Around 200,000 people were killed and another 40,000 were disappeared during the conflict between the army and leftist guerillas. More than 80 percent of those killed were indigenous Mayan civilians.


Hunting Auroras

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, might change their locations in the future.

Scientists recently noticed that the Earth’s magnetic north pole is on the move, the Guardian reported.

This change doesn’t mean that the position of the geographic North Pole changes. Rather, the shift in the magnetic pole – marking the northern focus of the planet’s magnetic field – will affect navigational devices like compasses.

Scientists recently updated the World Magnetic Model, which tracks the positions of the magnetic poles. The changes will help those who navigate the Arctic and need to use compasses when GPS devices fail.

People living at latitudes below about 55 degrees north – near the northern tip of Scotland, for example – shouldn’t panic about their devices malfunctioning, however.

Geophysicist Ciaran Beggan explained that the north magnetic pole usually hangs around northern Canada, but it has been moving northwards and accelerating in the past century.

“It went from moving at about five to 10km [six miles] a year to 50 or 60km a year today,” he said. “It’s now moving rapidly towards Siberia.”

Scientists also noted that the planet’s magnetic field is weakening, which could cause the poles to flip in 1,000 or more years.

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