When I posted my article describing the way that the Saudi bombing was killing children in Yemen, little did I know that Saudi Arabia was just about to do it again.
On the 12th of August, I wrote:
According to Reuters, “The U.N. report on children and armed conflict – released last Thursday – said the [Saudi-led] coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.”
On the 13th of August, the New York Times reported:
In the Haydan District, another northern area, airstrikes on Saturday hit a school, killing 10 students and wounding 28 others, an official at a nearby hospital said.
When rescuers took the victims from the principal’s house to Shiara Hospital, which is supported by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, staff members asked the rescuers to leave immediately, fearing that the hospital would be hit by another airstrike, rescuers said.
Several Doctors Without Borders hospitals have been hit by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes since the conflict began early in 2015. Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen after Houthi militants ousted the country’s president.
The Saudi story
The Saudi authorities deny the charges. Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the Houthi militants who dominate much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sana, commonly station their fighters in schools and hospitals. But he said he had no specific comment on the airstrikes on Saturday.
“We all know that these criminal organizations and groups are under pressure of the government. So they keep lying and saying that hospitals and schools are hit because they know the sensitivities of the international community.
They use civilian installations as the command and control centers of their organization. Don’t focus on the technical details. This is a war. Collateral damage could happen, mistakes could happen. But we work in Yemen on behalf of the international community; we are in Yemen today because the fire is on our border. If we do nothing today, tomorrow all the area will be a failed state.”
Major Asseri later told CNN “The aircraft has bombed a training camp for the coup militias called (Huda) in Saada,” and added that it “confirms the Houthis practice of recruit and subjecting children to terror. “According to Asseri, Houthis regularly recruit children “and use them as scouts, guards, messengers and fighters,” ultimately “subjecting them to injury and murder.”
Should we believe the Saudi government?
Not everyone is convinced: witnesses insisted that no Houthi military forces were present in the school. And UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, told CNN the children were too young to be fighters. “We’ve had a verification team who went to the site and was there on the day. We’ve been to the hospital and we’ve spoken to parents. Many of these children were six years old, eight years old. There’s just no way that those were fighters.”
I don’t know what the truth of the matter is. However, Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNICEF have people on the ground who are flatly contradicting the official Saudi line seems significant.
I am also struck by the fact that the Saudi spokesman said “But we work in Yemen on behalf of the international community; we are in Yemen today because the fire is on our border. If we do nothing today, tomorrow all the area will be a failed state.”
It sounds good to say that Saudi Arabia is working on behalf of the international community, but that ignores a significant fact. Saudi Arabia’s intervention is far from being even-handed. They are attacking one group only – the Houthis. The significance of that is that there are two main branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia. The Houthis are Shias and the Saudi Arabian government is Sunni. About 10-15% of Saudi Arabians adhere to Shia Islam, but according to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia
“face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment. . . . Saudi Arabia has no Shia cabinet ministers, mayors or police chiefs, according to another source, Vali Nasr, unlike other countries with sizeable Shia populations. Shia are kept out of “critical jobs” in the armed forces and the security services, and not one of the three hundred Shia girls schools in the Eastern Province has a Shia principal”
Furthermore, earlier this year, Saudi Arabia executed a Shia religious leader, Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr. Amnesty International was strongly critical of the execution, and Philip Luther, the Director of their Middle East and North Africa programme said: “The killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in particular suggests they are also using the death penalty in the name of counter-terror to settle scores and crush dissidents.”
In other words, when the Saudi government spokesman says “we work in Yemen on behalf of the international community”, he makes it sound like Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen is a basically humanitarian mission. The reality on the ground seems to look rather different. And when one takes into account that the people that the Saudi’s are bombing are Houthis, it begins to look suspiciously like part of the Saudi government’s ongoing campaign against Shia Islam.
Does anyone in America or Britain care?
Interestingly enough, the BBC website did not carry a report on this story, but the following day, it did get mentioned by the BBC in yet another story about Saudi bombing in Yemen, in which Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that one of their hospitals in northern Yemen had been hit by a Saudi air strike, killing at least 11 people, adding that the attack took place “less than 48 hours after MSF said a coalition air strike on a Koranic school in Saada’s Haydan district had killed 10 children.”
While the publicity that these air strikes have received has been very limited, and most people in the UK and the US seem to be either oblivious to or unconcerned about what is going on, a few voices are speaking out, including two American senators. Chris Murphy (a Democrat) said “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,” and Rand Paul (a Republican) is “looking for ways to stop a $1.15 billion weapons deal with Riyadh that would include the sale of 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored vehicles, and other military equipment”, saying “I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a vote on blocking this sale. Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record.”
“Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refuelling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war.”
Journalist Daniel Larison has gone further and said (and note the word ‘always’)
“U.S. support for the war was always indefensible because the war was unnecessary and reckless. The Saudis and their allies were not defending themselves when they starting bombing Yemen, and no U.S. interests were being served by helping them attack their neighbor. . . . It should be clear by now that the Saudis and their allies “do not care about killing innocent civilians,” which shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone considering that the coalition includes the likes of Sudan. The coalition made this clear when they illegally declared all of Saada a military target and they proved it again when they dropped cluster bombs in civilian areas.”
All this raises big questions about US and UK foreign policy in the Middle East.
But perhaps the biggest question is “Why is it that nobody seems to care?” According to the BBC, “The conflict in Yemen that began in 2015 has left more than 6,400 people dead, half of them civilians, and displaced 2.5 million others, according to the UN. ”
That’s 3000 civilians killed by bombs and bullets in just over a year, and nobody is concerned. Many of them are children, and most were killed by Saudi Arabia and its allies. According to U.N. figures, the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60% of the 1,953 children recorded as killed or maimed in the conflict in 2015.
49 people were shot in Florida and the Scottish Parliament observed a minute’s silence. 35 people were killed in bombings in Brussels and there was an outpouring of horror and sympathy in the UK. 84 people were killed in Nice when a man drove into crowds celebrating Bastille day, and it dominated the news in Britain. But when 3000 civilians are killed in Yemen, it’s different.
And the 3000 civilians killed and the 2.5 million people who have been displaced are only part of the suffering of that country. Oxfam has estimated that three million women and children under five are suffering from malnutrition. Why are we more concerned about Orlando, Brussels and Nice?
The gospel of peace in Yemen
Yemen is overwhelmingly Muslim. But there is a small Christian community there. Middle East Reformed Fellowship reports:
A sectarian war has raged over a year in Yemen, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Millions have only sporadic access to clean water, sufficient food, electricity, and basic medical care. The safety and well-being of the small communities of believers in this war-torn country is a serious concern. Although email and text message contacts with some have continued in both Sana’a and Aden, three groups of local converts can no longer get together for worship, even in homes.
A Christian primary school teacher in Yemen wrote: “… what a joy to receive a written note from parents of one of my pupils to thank me for teaching her to memorize the heavenly words of Jesus about loving one’s enemies…”
Even in Yemen, the good news of Jesus is being heard, and the work of that Gospel goes on. Please pray for the protection of God’s people, the work of the Gospel, and restoration of peace. That is the outside intervention that Yemen needs.