Op-Ed: War May End in Yemen, But It Now Faces a Public Health Crisis of Pandemic Proportions

There are many institutions and establishments that call Palo Alto home. Some of the more prominent ones, of course, include Stanford University and the Nature Preserve. But the city is also home to the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, a major division of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers.

Lockheed Martin is also one of the key contractors involved in an arms deal to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, which has used them to kill dozens of children in Yemen.

While Yemen feels like it’s a world away (over 8,000 miles from my apartment in Fremont, to be exact) and may seem irrelevant to us as we deal with our own lockdowns over COVID-19, it is home to my family, some of which moved to California over four decades ago. It is also home to over 28 million other Yemenis.

Silicon Valley has long been intertwined with money and interests flowing in from Saudi Arabia. It is only fair to remind its residents that not only do we have a bomb-making company in our midst, but that we may also have money tainted by war crimes pouring in to support local elected officials, businesses and corporations.

This week, we marked the fifth anniversary since the United States military began supporting the Saudi-led war on the poorest nation in the Arab world. Five years in which companies such as Lockheed Martin have been exporting arms to the desert kingdom, which has used them to bombard famine-stricken Yemen.

On Thursday, just a couple days after the fifth anniversary of the conflict, those warring parties agreed to a nationwide ceasefire. Even if on-the-ground conflicts cease, Yemen faces a new danger.

According to the United Nations, the five-year conflict created the world’s worst (man-made) humanitarian crisis that we’ve seen in decades.

Since 2015, over 100,000 Yemenis were killed in the conflict, over 85,000 children may have starved to death and as many as 2 million people have contracted cholera. Yemen has not been safe from airstrikes, displacement, disease, or hunger for five years. Now, while the world grapples with a new reality dealing with a contagious virus, Yemen is even more vulnerable to death from this new infection and ill equipped to counter it.

The U.S. is struggling with pandemic mitigation measures as I write this. We are merely beginning to experience what life is like under the threat of uncertainty. Many of us are struggling to cope being out of work and locked out of school. We are complying with social isolation policies in order to keep our communities safe. That is a noble priority.

But Yemen has known for years what it’s like to live in fear. As a war-torn country, it can not survive if COVID-19 enters. The stakes are so much higher now.

Many of us know that only Congress has the power to authorize war. But we also know from the war in Iraq, that many U.S. administrations have waged endless wars ever since without the support or approval of Congress.

Over the last few years, many progressive lawmakers attempted to challenge the role of the U.S. in the war in Yemen. One of my favorites is Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley and has led efforts to end U.S. military support and arms sales to Saudi Arabia through the War Powers Act and other legislation.

We celebrated a big win last April when a bipartisan War Powers resolution passed both chambers—a historic measure that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. As promised, however, Trump vetoed the bill and instead struck an $8 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan-defying Congress.

As taxpayers and constituents, we not only have the right to speak up against the role of our government in war crimes in Yemen (and elsewhere), we also have a duty to hold our businesses, establishments and politicians accountable for their complicity. Silicon Valley stands as a beacon of success for the word’s smartest inventors and innovators. That’s why it’s also a moral imperative that this progress remains rooted in social justice.

Today, I am writing about five years of war. For me, it’s been filled with five years of anxiety and worry for my relatives who still live in Yemen. My family and neighbors know that bombs that have hit school buses, hospitals and weddings in Yemen were made in the U.S.A. They also know that the U.S. has been helping the Saudis bomb them.

As an American, it’s hard for me to not feel guilt and anguish over this and do nothing. It’s going to take a lot of pressure from people of conscience to make our lawmakers and this administration reconsider our role in the region. It’s my hope that at least Silicon Valley can do the right thing and help Yemen during this new chapter of great need.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Khanna and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded the call for the U.S. to intervene in Yemen in a very different way.

“As the coronavirus spreads all over the world, Yemenis may be the planet’s most vulnerable people in the face of this pandemic,” the lawmakers said.  They have suffered five years of horrendous warfare and 80 percent of them now rely on humanitarian aid just to survive. A national ceasefire could not come a moment too soon.”

The pair urged the United States to move urgently to make sure this ceasefire in Yemen cannot be reversed. They called for an end to the U.S. selling weapons and spare parts to the Saudis and an end to offering political backing and logistical support as well.

With the war crisis morphing into a health crisis, Sanders and Khanna said we must stop the Trump administration’s cuts to hundreds of millions of dollars in USAID to Yemen. They said the only way forward is to pair diplomatic support for a political settlement with coordinated efforts to use this truce as an opportunity to pull millions of Yemenis back from the brink of starvation.

“We are proud to have worked together to build bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate to end this unconstitutional war,” they said. “Now is the time for President Trump to act. Yemen needs peace, food, medicine, and diplomacy—not U.S. bombs.”

I hope Silicon Valley can also do the right thing. I hope you won’t hear from me next year, highlighting six years of war. Because Yemen can’t wait for peace any longer.

Jehan Hakim is a San Francisco native who lives in Fremont with her three teens and a first-grader. Her family is from Yemen. She’s the Founder and Chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, a social advocacy group working to resist anti-Yemeni policies. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

5 Comments

  1. “ We MAY have money tainted by war crimes”. We DO have money tainted by war crimes, sex trafficking and white collar crimes supporting our elected officials and public figures. It will continue to do so without transparency and accountability. The coronavirus gives corruption a greater opportunity to be concealed. Only by speaking up and out, naming names and supporting local journalism can we ever hope to stop it.

  2. > She’s the Founder and Chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, a social advocacy group working to resist anti-Yemeni policies.

    To be truthful, “anti-Yemeni policies” haven’t been high on my list of things to worry about.

    > This week, we marked the fifth anniversary since the United States military began supporting the Saudi-led war on the poorest nation in the Arab world.

    Hmmmm. Trump has only been President for three-and-a-half years.

    Counting backwards on my fingers: five – four – three – two and a half.

    Wait! Didn’t the problem start during the Obama administration? We should blame Obama!

    Why are they bring this up now?

    > With the war crisis morphing into a health crisis, Sanders and Khanna said we must stop the Trump administration’s cuts to hundreds of millions of dollars in USAID to Yemen.

    KA-CHING!

    Follow the money.

  3. I’m sorry but we have our own issues on our own soil. Not trying to sound cold but seriously, it becomes such a battle we never win by being heroes. If you want to help so bad, go back, you are free, correct?! We need to address “our” nation first; not use additional resources to assist countries overseas and then find out we are S.O.L. when pandemics arise, like now!.

  4. She inaccurately asserts: “…since the United States military began supporting the Saudi-led war on the poorest nation in the Arab world”. This is factually incorrect. This is NOT a “Saudi-led war” on Yemen. It’s an Iranian-supported rebel war on the internationally-recognized, legitimate government of Yemen. The defense of the legitimate government against the rebel coup is being supported by the Saudis. We cannot have a rational conversation about these issues unless we’re being honest and factual about the genesis of the crisis.

  5. It is funny people like Khanna and Sanders are top critics of the U.S. being the “police” of the world. Thus their non-sense logic is that U.S must leave other countries alone and mind its own business but support all those countries financially! No country should be the police of other. However, the reason there is international laws and rules is due to the fact that what happens in a place can become detrimental to other places. The COVID-19 is an example of the world interrelation and cooperation that is needed to protect the people. I have never heard Sanders or Khanna talked about the Bacha Bazi or rape of boys in Afghanistan by influential men of that Islamic State. They have never addressed the Child marriages which is a common practice too. It appears their focus is always to preach about leaving dictators alone. Bernie Sanders and Khanna have to go! SAY NO TO COMMUNISTS!

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