Written by Alayna Lee
After three years of conflict, the war in Yemen has not shown any signs of stopping, and it has turned into one of the most severe humanitarian crises the international community faces today.
On Friday, February 22nd, the Yale International Relations Association and Students for Yemen hosted a panel discussion entitled “What Will it Take to End the War in Yemen?” The three panelists each brought a different perspective to this pressing issue, which has become even more relevant as the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to end U.S. funding of the war in Yemen.
Caught between the two opposing factions — the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government — are Yemen’s civilians. Around 22 million people are now in need of some sort of assistance and 6,000 have already been killed. The presence of additional foreign military involvement exacerbates the dangerous conflict. Most of the international community regard the war in Yemen as a proxy war, fought between Saudi Arabia, who backs the ousted Yemeni government, and Iran, who has been accused of supplying arms to the Houthis. More and more states have become involved with the conflict as well, resulting in even more crossfire for Yemeni citizens to be caught between. While the U.S. has not committed air or land forces to the Saudi-led coalition, like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have, the U.S. has contributed arms and logistical support. Militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have taken advantage of the chaos the war has caused as well, a target that U.S. officials often use to justify airstrikes in Yemen. Yet these airstrikes do not discriminate between would-be terrorists and innocent Yemeni people — according to the U.N. human rights office, thousands of civilians perish from these attacks. Despite vocal opposition from President Donald Trump — who continues to support Saudi Arabia even after its crown prince is implicated for the murder of reporter Jamal Khashoggi — there has been broad bipartisan support for H.J. Res. 37, which would remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in Yemen without Congressional authorization.
The discussion began with a brief introduction of each panelist. Summer Nasser, chairperson of Yemen Aid, detailed her experiences from leading an international humanitarian NGO. Some of the work her organization has done in Yemen include establishing an ambulance service similar to the emergency service 9-1-1 in the U.S. in order to create jobs and empowering women through health education.
Stanley Heller — chairperson and executive director of the Middle East Crisis Committee, a peace and human rights organization based in New Haven — continued the discussion by outlining his history of general activism in New Haven. After beginning his activist work in 1969 with the Vietnam War, he’s continued to this day and still believes in the power of grassroots movements.
As a Senior Lector of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale, Muhammad Al-Aziz furthered the discussion by providing some context on Yemen’s political and religious history. . Due to its remote location and rugged terrain, Yemen has historically been a divided country. Until the establishment of the Republic of Yemen in 1990, the country was split between the northern Yemen Arab Republic and the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Azis added that it was very difficult for an army to come and invade, so that many people, such as the Ottomans, had a strenuous time with the local people and “eventually left the country.”
During a part of the panel discussion pertaining to a plausible end to the current civil conflict, , Heller spoke from an activist point of view about how he believes that religion is merely an excuse for many sides during civil wars. “Usually, a gang wants power and adds religion onto it,” he said.
According to Heller, the main objective should be to stop Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from launching airstrikes in Yemen and to stop the U.S. from helping them do so. “[The U.S. government] is there for one reason: to please the Saudis,” he said. “They buy our weapons, and Trump is happy to do anything he can for that.”
Heller described specific actions that U.S. citizens could take to affect change. He recommended calling congressmen, writing op-eds, or boycotting groups with ties to Saudi Arabia. He added that photo exhibits centered on Yemen can be particularly moving, considering its simplicity and emotional impact. Still, Heller advised that people interested in helping should be creative when thinking about what can be done.
Summer Nasser also emphasized that H.J. Res. 37, the legislation currently in Congress, is not necessarily about ending the war in Yemen but instead about “saving the reputation of the U.S.” She added that while important for the U.S. to exit the conflict, there is still an internal crisis within Yemen to contend with, and that once the U.S. steps away from involvement with the conflict, that “guarantees that no one will talk about Yemen again.”
Ultimately, the panel could not reach a consensus on what, exactly, it will take to end the war in Yemen. Each of the panelists acknowledged that the answer is not as simple as the legislation in Congress makes it appear,. Yemen’s citizens will be affected by its civil war for years to come, necessitating continual international humanitarian attention.