Opinion

Why are American pro-Palestinian voices silent about the brutal war on Yemen?

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The US government is backing a brutal war on Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. It has been for more than nine months.

You wouldn’t know that from the US Palestinian solidarity movement though. It has largely remained silent — silent while Yemen has bled profusely.

The Saudi-led coalition has for close to 300 days rained US-made bombs down upon civilian areas including weddings, hospitals, refugee camps, civilian neighborhoods, government buildings, humanitarian aid warehouses, and more.

Approximately 6,000 Yemenis have been killed — dozens per day, on average. More than 2,800 civilians, and at least 5,300 civilians have been wounded, according to the UN.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly accused the coalition of war crimes for attacking civilian areas.

The UN has made it clear that the Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition is responsible for roughly two-thirds of civilian casualties.

Where are the American pro-Palestinian voices?

The reasons Americans should stand in solidarity with Palestinians are the same reasons Americans should stand in solidarity with Yemenis.

Just as the US arms and aids the Israeli military, the US arms and aids the Saudi-led coalition. On January 6, just one day after bombing a center for the blind and Yemen’s chamber of commerce, the Saudi-led coalition dropped widely banned US-made cluster munitions on civilian neighborhoods in the capital city of Sanaa. The bombs were made at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee.

The photos of Yemeni children dug from under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Saudi bombing appear incredibly similar to those of Palestinian children massacred by Israel in the besieged Gaza Strip. In fact, I have personally seen them confused for each other on social media.

Just as Israel has imposed a merciless (and illegal) siege on Gaza for almost 10 years, Saudi Arabia has imposed a ruthless siege on Yemen for almost 10 months. As early as August, human rights organizations had warned that 80 percent of Yemen’s population — 21 million people — were in desperate need of humanitarian aid because of the Saudi blockade.

All of the arguments used to defend the Palestinian resistance are just as valid vis-à-vis the Yemeni resistance.

Just as Israel is responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in its periodic wars on Gaza, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in Yemen.

Like the al-Qassam Brigades, the Houthis and other Yemeni rebels do not have airplanes; it is Israel and the Western-backed coalition that are dropping bombs from the sky.

And, even beside the US role and other geopolitical alliances, Yemenis are objectively an oppressed group. Internationalists who believe in the universality of justice are obligated to stand with the oppressed against their oppressor.

This argument may seem reminiscent of the fallacious talking points and deflections used by Israel’s supporters. “Why don’t you say anything about Syria?” such pundits often ask. But there is a crucial distinction in regards to Yemen.

Syria is complicated. Even the US’ position is contradictory. The White House has called for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, but legendary journalist Seymour Hersh has exposed that the Pentagon has independently aided him. The Syrian regime has carried out horrific crimes, shooting protesters, bombing and besieging civilian areas, torturing. US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, on the other side, are actively supporting extremist groups like Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, while NATO member Turkey is giving foreign Salafi fanatics free reign to cross its border and has been accused of supporting ISIS. Many Palestinians and other groups are themselves divided on Syria.

Yemen is not complicated.

A coalition of Western allies and traditional imperial powers — including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, armed by the US and UK — is carrying out a brutal war on the poorest country in the Middle East.

Qatar and the UAE have effectively invaded Yemen.

Israel has said little about the war, but it is evident that its sympathies lie with its allies in the US-backed coalition. In the few times Israeli politicians have mentioned Yemen, they have characterized the war as a product of supposed Iranian aggression. Israel, like the members of the coalition, accuses Iran of backing the Houthi rebels.

Most media outlets have uncritically echoed this accusation, describing the war as “sectarian” and a “proxy war.” Investigative reporters like Gareth Porter have revealed, however, that the ostensible role of Iran has been exaggerated, or even blatantly lied about, in order to justify the bombing and destruction.

The egregious injustice of the Saudi-led, Western-backed war on Yemen is, to put it bluntly, cut and dry.

During Israel’s brutal 51-day war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, there were constant demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians. In DC, there were literally dozens — one often held every day or every other day.

Where are the demonstrations for Yemenis? In New York City in the past six months, there has only been one or two, and even those were sparsely attended.

I have written numerous articles for Mondoweiss detailing the war crimes the US-backed coalition has carried out in Yemen, but the pieces I published have not been nearly as popular as those I wrote detailing the war crimes the US-backed Israeli military carried out in Gaza.

This is a war that has carried on for more than three-quarters of a year, but many American pro-Palestinian voices have remained silent.

Some might fall back on an age-old argument, claiming they do not want to delve into wars like that in Yemen because they do not want to “divide the movement.” But there is a big difference between remaining silent for the sake of unity and remaining silent in an act of hypocrisy.

Besides, such a view is myopic. The war on Yemen cannot be distinguished from the ongoing war on Palestine. There is an enormous overlap in the forces responsible for the oppression in both cases. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others may do lip service to the Palestinian cause, yet they abandon Palestinians and make deals with Israel behind their backs.

If American pro-Palestinian activists cannot find common cause with Yemenis struggling against violent oppression that is in so many ways similar to that suffered by Palestinians, they need to seriously reflect on their politics.

Whatever happened to solidarity?

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I don’t follow activism out in meatspace very closely, but online Yemen has been an issue at Salon ( as you know)and at the Intercept. I didn’t realize reaction has been limited, but if so that’s really bad because as you say these are the same issues, for Americans at… Read more »

I am not silent about it. The Saudi regime disgusts me. We should have stopped all aid to SA long ago. And I don’t get this obsession with Assad. What proof do you have that he has committed horrific crimes? No one ever proved that he gassed his own people,… Read more »

Most media outlets have uncritically echoed this accusation, describing the war as “sectarian” and a “proxy war.” Investigative reporters like Gareth Porter have revealed, however, that the ostensible role of Iran has been exaggerated, or even blatantly lied about, in order to justify the bombing and destruction. Porter examined the… Read more »

There is one coalition that supports Palestinian rights and very firmly condemns the Saudi-US-Sudanese-Egyptian war on Yemen. It’s the Coalition to End the U.S.-Saudi Alliance http://www.SaudiUS.org It’s current members are CODEPINK, the Institute for Gulf Affairs, ​Middle East Crisis Committee (CT), Massachusetts Peace Action and the United National Anti-war Coalition​

Why, indeed? Because there aren’t Zionists (read: Jews) to blame in the Yemeni conflict.