The destructive and almost irrational nature of decision-making by governments in the Middle East and abroad has been highlighted again this week by three developments that should cause us all to pause for a moment and ask how we have allowed our inhumanity to prevail in the business of war—while also generating a destructive sense of helplessness and worthlessness among hundreds of millions of ordinary people across Arab countries who increasingly conclude that their lives do not matter to anyone
The three developments are: 1) the announcement that Saudi Arabia would provide $10 billion to help rebuilt the widespread destruction in Yemen (which was largely caused by the Saudi decision to initiate a quite senseless war there nearly two years ago); 2) a report by Medecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) showing the catastrophic impact of the war on the city of Taiz; and, 3) the Donald Trump administration’s desire to raise the U.S. military budget to nearly $650 billion.
The juxtaposition of these three suggests a level of decision-making in assorted powerful countries that has long surpassed the point of uncaring disdain for human life, and now ventures into the criminally irresponsible. The MSF report is based on their continuous presence on the ground in Yemen serving the needs of citizens on both sides of the fighting. It clarifies the massive destruction and thousands of civilian casualties that result from the Saudi Arabia-initiated war, with the support of some Arab allies, assorted Yemeni groups fighting on the ground, and the United States and other foreign and Middle Eastern states offering technical assistance.
The thousands of dead and tens of thousands of injured Yemenis, alongside the significant destruction of civilian facilities, have generated millions of refugees and internally displaced people, leaving about 80 percent of Yemen’s population of 26 million in need of food or other basic needs. Nearly three million have been displaced, and the rate of child malnutrition is among the highest in the world, according to the UN.
In the meantime, Al-Qaeda continues to entrench itself in parts of the country, while thousands of disgruntled young men who see no hope or future for themselves surely must be thinking about joining radical militant groups like Islamic State (ISIS) or others. They ask: Why should they play by the global rules, if Arab and foreign powers and the warring Yemeni parties do not observe those same rules? They saw what happened to civilians in Homs, Aleppo, Gaza City, Tikrit, and other Arab cities, where millions of innocent civilians were displaced, hundreds of thousands were killed, entire urban quarters were razed to the ground, and no power in sight was willing or able to stop the atrocities.
It seems clear then that powerful and rich countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, Iran, and others can continue to stoke the war in Yemen without any pressures of restraint now or political or legal accountability in the future. If the U.S. military budget is increased by another $50 billion, some of this will go to eradicating ISIS, as President Trump promises. So we should expect more Middle Eastern or Asian lands to soon resemble Yemen, and the world will watch with shock but political immobilization, as it does now in Yemen.
The succinct MSF report, entitled “Yemen: Healthcare under siege in Taiz,” clarifies how almost two years of continuous fighting have created a medical-humanitarian disaster in Yemen’s third largest city—and conditions still continue to deteriorate. (The report is available here).
MSF operates on both sides of the frontlines in Taiz. What it reports is incalculably shocking: “An unacceptably high proportion of the war-wounded are women and children. The city, once Yemen’s cultural hub, has shrunk to a third of its pre-war population size. Yet it is still a densely populated urban war zone where 200,000 people live amidst constant heavy artillery shelling, daily air strikes and armed clashes (…) Shells are launched into and out of the city center while the movement of people and goods in and out is severely restricted and tightly controlled. None of the warring parties in Taiz show any respect for the protection of civilians. Our patients and their caregivers, on both sides of the frontlines around the city, have reported being injured by shelling while preparing lunch at home, wounded by airstrikes while walking to their fields, shot at by snipers while walking the streets outside their houses, and maimed by landmines while herding their livestock (…) Hospitals have been repeatedly hit by shelling and gunfire, one clinic has been hit by an airstrike, and ambulances have been shot at, confiscated or intruded on by armed men. Medical personnel have been shot at on their way to work, harassed, detained, threatened and forced to work at gunpoint (…) The general population is not only caught in the crossfire, but is frequently indiscriminately targeted.”
All the local and foreign warring parties are directly or indirectly involved in these destructive acts. MSF says it has treated over 55,000 war-wounded in Yemen, with over 10,700 of them from Taiz.
MSF is asking that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) be urgently applied to reduce or stop the “consistent pattern of injuring and killing of civilians by all belligerents,” and that all warring parties respect, “the protection and neutrality of medical structures and personnel, allow the wounded and sick to safely access to health care, and facilitate the delivery of medical and humanitarian aid.”
It seems far better to do this now than to mindlessly and criminally spend tens of billions of dollars on more wars and post-war assistance in shattered countries that should never have been shattered in the first place.Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
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