Life Beneath Bombs and Behind Blockade

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Publish Date : 07/08/2017 12:24
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Life Beneath Bombs and Behind Blockade
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It was 9 on a hot summer morning in 2015 when the airstrike destroyed Ashwaq’s home, killing her four children as they ate breakfast. It was my first case in my new job as a field researcher for the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights. It still haunts me.

When Ashwaq regained consciousness, she learned that her children were already buried, and that she would never see them again. But at least she didn’t see, as some here have, her dead loved ones loaded into a truck meant for frozen chickens, dripping with water and blood when the power failed.

This is what daily life is like in Hudaydah. This coastal city in northern Yemen, where a majority of inhabitants depend on fishing, is the country’s main port, the entry point for most of Yemen’s food and supplies. Since 2014 it has been controlled by the rebel fighters known as the Houthis. But an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States intends to drive the Houthis out. So far, the coalition members have relied on a ceaseless bombing campaign, including the use of cluster bombs. They are now planning to invade our town and seize the port.

The Saudis have asked President Trump for his support. He has already announced a plan to send Saudi Arabia more of the bombs that devastate our town. He has even called these bombs “beautiful.” Congress has already indicated in one vote that it will approve the sale, but is still to debate a second resolution that would block it in practice. I hope that American politicians come to understand how the people of Hudaydah are suffering.

When the coalition got involved in the civil war in 2015, it imposed a blockade on Hudaydah, and bombed the cranes that unloaded the ships carrying vital goods that used to flow through here to the whole country. Replacement cranes, paid for by the United States, have not been allowed through. Nor has enough food, fuel and medicine.

I watched recently as one woman from my village near Hudaydah died because the hospital didn’t have dialysis fluid for her. The children here are turning into skeletons: Some families manage only one meal a day. The hospitals lack electricity and medicine; they cannot pay salaries. Orderlies seem like robots, with no apparent feeling, as they accompany the dead.

Meanwhile, fishermen can no longer provide for their families because the coalition fires on their boats, claiming that they are going after the Houthis. After one attack by an Apache helicopter, the colleagues of the fishermen were unable to find even parts of their bodies. In March, a Somali refugee boat was attacked at sea. I can still smell the refugees’ clothes wet with seawater and blood.

State employees haven’t been paid in eight months. There has been no electricity for two years, except what we can make from solar panels and generators. Two months ago, the water stopped, because the water supplier lacks diesel to run the pumps. People are burning firewood to cook and digging wells for water in the streets, and it feels like we’re living in a black comedy. We’re going back to the past without a time machine.

Last year, the coalition bombed a Houthi prison. None of the military leaders who were supposedly the targets were killed. Dozens of prisoners — political opponents of the Houthis and people accused of petty crimes — lost their lives.

This is our situation: All of us Yemenis who hate this war are imprisoned. The Houthis imprison us, and in this prison the coalition kills us.

In the first week of May, coalition planes dropped leaflets about plans to “liberate” the town. When I arrived home, my mother greeted me with the scraps of paper that had landed on our roof. This didn’t feel like a threat or a warning, or even a request to leave. It felt like an announcement of death.

People here were horrified, but no one left. Most can’t afford to flee, while others have seen so much that they have resigned themselves to whatever their fate may be. An invasion would be an unforgivable war crime.

My mind is full of stories that repeat every time I lay my head on my pillow to sleep: The two children who were victims of land mines in January, one losing a leg. The fishermen who went to sea and never returned. And Ashwaq and her four dead children.

When I interviewed Ashwaq’s husband, he told me my work as a human rights investigator was worthless. “No one can hold anyone to account for killing my children,” he said. “No one knows that my children died or that their bodies were burned, or that I spent two days looking for their remains.”





“ Life Beneath Bombs and Behind Blockade ”