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Are Arab Americans Responding to the Disaster in Yemen?

posted on: Nov 28, 2018

By Amy Hensler/Arab America Contributing Writer 

This week US Senator Bernie Sanders will go to the floor of the United States Senate to try and stop U.S. support for the war in Yemen. The Yemen crisis has been an international disaster. The conflict has escalated from the civil war that resulted from the Arab Spring protests in 2011. It is now something that involves a multitude of players with motivations stemming from anti-terrorism to selfish political gains.

The crisis in Yemen has created many byproducts of war, including famine, displacement, and a cholera outbreak resulting from an elimination of hospitals and healthcare. The World Food Programme estimates that 12 million Yemeni’s will fall victim to famine if the conflict persists. Lisa Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, projects that Yemen will become the worst site of famine that the world has seen in the past 100 years. These statistics only get more heartbreaking with time, and as the war rages on, Arab Americans are taking a stand to protect their brothers and sisters in need.

Detroit educator and Yemeni Shema Aman has been advocating for civilian rights here in the States. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s, and she fights for her relatives that still live in Yemen blocked from entering the U.S. by Trump’s travel ban. Shema, like many other Yemeni Americans, is disgusted with America’s compliance with civilian casualties.

“It’s a genocidal war,” she stated with sorrow in her voice. Shema discussed that one of the actions Arab Americans are doing to help combat the violence is to start local grassroots campaigns to raise money for Yemen’s civilians. Often through platforms like GoFundMe, these campaigns raise money for families and children that need medical assistance. While these fundraisers may seem small, they are working “to bring awareness to a cause and to a need that has not really been highlighted in the media.” The casualties that have resulted from Yemen’s war go outside the norm of traditional civil wars into something outrageous. “These small movements are for people to hear our cries.”

Most Arab American resistance comes in the form of criticizing international politics. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, so all funding for armed groups or Yemen’s recognized government comes from outside aide. Shema states that “there needs to be no funding from an outside country if it is a true civil war,” and since the U.S. is directly supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. has inserted itself into the conflict.

Arab Americans have expressed widespread discontent with the Trump administration’s policies towards Yemen. Trump’s intervention in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen goes against his promise of putting America first. These weapon sales are creating fear and hatred among Yemenis towards the U.S. This could produce unwanted consequences that Trump and future administrations are not prepared for.

Photo: Action Against Hunger USA 

While Arab American’s are organizing to provide relief and dissent for the people of Yemen, Shema and many others believe that the true fate of the conflict relies on the intervention of the United Nations. She states that “civilians are doing a great job with bringing awareness to the war, but a big bulk of this relies on the United Nations. These are the peacemakers or the police officers of the world,” so if the people cannot rely on them, then another conversation has to be had with the supposed leaders of the world. “The constitution says we the people. We have created revolutions, we have solved genocidal wars, we have created solutions instead of creating more problems,” so the same protections need to be ensured in Yemen.

In December 2015, the United Nations engaged in peace talks to launch a ceasefire, but no agreement was reached; the same happened in October 2016. As the conflict rages on, the hope has to be placed on the civilians of Yemen, and on the people who are standing up for them abroad.

“Until there is peace in Yemen… we cannot engage in a candid conversation about where the people go from here.” Progress in Yemen is still very far away, but this is not to say that the people should give up. “I know that the people of Yemen are so strong and so vigilant, in terms of their faith and their culture, that I hope that we prevail. I hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and Yemenis need to know that the light at the end of the tunnel is themselves.”

These local movements are not enough, Shema states, “but sooner or later, I just know that Trump will have to withdraw from this genocidal war, the only question is how many people will die before that happens?”