Remaining Peaceful Was Their Choice

Despite early efforts at peaceful protest, Yemeni civilians face the reality of another year of devastating warfare inflicted by Saudi- and U.S.-led forces, as Kathy Kelly describes.

By Kathy Kelly

People living now in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, have endured unimaginable circumstances for the past three years. Civilians fear to go outside lest they be shot by a sniper or step on a land mine. Both sides of a worsening civil war use Howitzers, Kaytushas, mortars and other missiles to shell the city. Residents say no neighborhood is safer than another, and human rights groups report appalling violations, including torture of captives. On Dec. 26th, 2017, a Saudi-led coalition bomber killed between 20 and 50 people in a crowded marketplace.

A Saudi military member stands next to a damaged building in the area of the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden, Yemen. Sep 27, 2015. (Flickr Ahmed Farwan)

Before the civil war developed, the city was regarded as the official cultural capital of Yemen, a place where authors and academics, artists and poets chose to live. Taiz was home to a vibrant, creative youth movement during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Young men and women organized massive, yet peaceful demonstrations to protest the enrichment of entrenched elites as ordinary people struggled to survive.

Peaceful Protest

The young people were exposing the roots of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. They were sounding an alarm about the receding water tables which made wells ever harder to dig and were crippling the agricultural economy. They were similarly distressed over unemployment. When starving farmers and shepherds moved to cities, the young people could see how the increased population would overstress already inadequate systems for sewage, sanitation and health care delivery. They protested their government’s cancellation of fuel subsidies and the skyrocketing prices which resulted. They clamored for a refocus on policy away from wealthy elites and toward creation of jobs for high school and university graduates.

Despite their misery, they steadfastly opted for unarmed, nonviolent struggle.

Dr. Sheila Carapico, an historian who has closely followed Yemen’s modern history, noted the slogans adopted by demonstrators in Taiz and in Sana’a, in 2011: ‘Remaining Peaceful Is Our Choice,’ and ‘Peaceful, Peaceful, No to Civil War.’

Carapico adds that some called Taiz the epicenter of the popular uprising. “The city’s relatively educated cosmopolitan student body entertained demonstration participants with music, skits, caricatures, graffiti, banners and other artistic embellishments. Throngs were photographed: men and women together; men and women separately, all unarmed.”

In December of 2011, 150,000 people walked nearly 200 kilometers from Taiz to Sana’a, promoting their call for peaceful change. Among them were tribal people who worked on ranches and farms. They seldom left home without their rifles, but had chosen to set aside their weapons and join the peaceful march.

Yet, those who ruled Yemen for over thirty years, in collusion with Saudi Arabia’s neighboring monarchy which fiercely opposed democratic movements anywhere near its borders, negotiated a political arrangement meant to co-opt dissent while resolutely excluding a vast majority of Yemenis from influence on policy. They ignored demands for changes that might be felt by ordinary Yemenis and facilitated instead a leadership swap, replacing the dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh with Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, his vice-president, as an unelected president of Yemen.

The U.S. and neighboring petro-monarchies backed the powerful elites. At a time when Yemenis desperately needed funding to meet the needs of starving millions, they ignored the pleas of peaceful youths calling for demilitarized change, and poured funding into “security spending” – a misleading notion which referred to further military buildup, including the arming of client dictators against their own populations.

And then the nonviolent options were over, and civil war began.

The Nightmare of War

Now, the nightmare of famine and disease those peaceful youths anticipated has become a horrid reality, and their city of Taiz is transformed into a battlefield.

What could we wish for Taiz? Surely, we wouldn’t wish the terror plague of aerial bombardment to cause death, mutilation, destruction and multiple traumas. We wouldn’t wish for shifting battle lines to stretch across the city and the rubble in its blood-marked streets. I think most people in the U.S. wouldn’t wish such horror on any community and wouldn’t want people in Taiz to be singled out for further suffering.

We could instead build massive campaigns demanding a U.S. call for a permanent ceasefire and an end of all weapon sales to any of the warring parties. But, if the U.S. continues to equip the Saudi-led coalition, selling bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and refueling Saudi bombers in midair so they can continue their deadly sorties, people in Taiz and throughout Yemen will continue to suffer.

The beleaguered people in Taiz will anticipate, every day, the sickening thud, ear-splitting blast or thunderous explosion that could tear apart the body of a loved one, or a neighbor, or a neighbors’ child; or turn their homes to masses of rubble, and alter their lives forever or end their lives before the day is through.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (www.vcnv.org), a campaign to end U.S. military and economic wars.

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16 comments for “Remaining Peaceful Was Their Choice

  1. Joe Tedesky
    January 3, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    All the while our U.S. President’s sympathies are made known for the Iranian people, Washington still harbors the likes of an apartheid state which crushes its Palestinian citizens, and hugs warmly a 7th Century Monarchy to whom no civil liberties are allowed as per the Royals who own them. This ongoing policy for support of these U.S. Middle East allies is where the road to hegemony will end, or already did.

  2. mike k
    January 3, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Did I hear someone say there is no such thing as evil? Maybe they didn’t read this. Ronald Raygun was right – there is an evil empire. He just got the location wrong. Things like Yemen make me understand why us ugly Americans don’t want to look in the mirror.

    • Peppermint
      January 4, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
      is the best
      for by evening you know that you at least
      have lived through another day)
      and let the disasters, the unbelievable
      yet approved decisions
      soak in.

      I don’t need to name the countries,
      ours among them.

      What keeps us from falling down, our faces
      to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?
      Mary Oliver

      Hi Mike- Our citizenry is numb. Greed, hatred, delusion. I suggest poetry in the midst of nonsensical, inhumane actions on the part of our corporate government; try some Wendell Berry. His writing is afire with noting the insanity of money and unchecked power.
      Peace to you~

      • mike k
        January 4, 2018 at 1:07 pm

        Truly a breath of fresh air in a world that needs it so much. Thanks Peppermint, I needed that – we all need that!

        Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry are among my favorites. How did you know? Ah, you must be a kindred spirit. I bet you like Rilke and Kabir too.

        ~Shanti, shanti, shanti………..

  3. mike k
    January 4, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I have to wonder why here are so few comments to this penetrating article? Is it that the nightmare our supposed humanitarian USA is too horrible to acknowledge? We can’t stand to look at the gruesome reality of our nation’s crimes? We really need to look deeply at this…….

    • Realist
      January 4, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      I think we psychologically react to the US-sponsored war in Yemen like a bad case of burnout or information overload. We can’t face yet one more travesty after all the gratuitous carnage that preceded it (and still rages). What can we say about this that hasn’t already been said untold times before about the others, and to which those in charge either refuse to respond or from which they refuse to learn?

  4. January 4, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Kathy Kelly is a wonderful person who is like an unwelcome prophet in a sinful world. It’s defense is to close its ears to her message of compassion and love lest they catch its virus.

    • mike k
      January 4, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Exactly. Thank you for your understanding comment Herman.

  5. Skip Scott
    January 4, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I worked with a few Yemenis aboard ship. They had somehow gotten to the USA and got their seaman’s papers to work on US ships. They were good hardworking people who were very thankful for a good paying job. Many sent money home to feed relatives. I think many of them settled up in Minnesota some place. This was before the war, but Yemen was very poor even back then.

    I wish we could gain control of our government and work for peace. Our foreign policy is completely upside down. Time and time again we take the wrong side. We enable unspeakable brutality supplying weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It has to end.

    • mike k
      January 4, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      With madmen at the helm, what can we expect? We have to change ourselves, and change our world. Thanks for chipping in Skip.

  6. Virginia
    January 6, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    I somehow missed this and the adjacent article. Now it is showing up. Don’t know if it’s part of a censure going on, but maybe that is why so few comments.

    Did you all see that the Saudi princes who protested because now they are being made to pay for their own electricity usage, …did you see that they had carried out an execution of one of the relatives? The reason I mention it? because the double standard again in play! Look how Kim Jong un gets crucified for that and the Saudis nothing. The US cherry picks which non-democratic heads of state to support and which “must go,” so it’s not a question really of democracy, is it?

  7. Virginia
    January 6, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    Ms. Kelly, Thanks.

  8. January 6, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    If you’re going to ask uncle Sam for something, perhaps it should be bombs. That way maybe you’ll get no strings attached aid. Just ask – as in remember – archbishop Oscar Romero.

  9. January 6, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    These days regime change has two main components, namely a violent and non violent one. It’s important for progressives to realize that non violent protests, and organizations that teach that and are behind that, are often working for the enemy. Stephen Gowans laid it out well in his article titled “Overthrow Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to do what the CIA used to do, and make it seem progressive.”

    https://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/overthrow-inc-peter-ackerman%E2%80%99s-quest-to-do-what-the-cia-used-to-so-and-make-it-seem-progressive/

    I don’t know anything about Kathy Kelly. And Gowans does make the point that progressives can learn something about non violent protests from Gene Sharp’s crowd. But that lesson isn’t ‘What can progressives do to strengthen a Corporatocracy that devours them’.

  10. Kelli
    January 8, 2018 at 2:44 am

    The United States is guilty of war crimes in Yemen.
    And we, as a society, are guilty too….

  11. January 12, 2018 at 2:22 am

    most people in the U.S. wouldn’t wish such horror on any community

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