Silence as Thousands of Civilians Die in the Middle East and a Blockade Impoverishes a Nation

© Josh Sager – July 2015

Did you know that a rich, western-backed nation in the Middle East is currently imposing a near-total blockade on a much poorer neighbor, while engaging in an air-bombing campaign that has killed nearly 3,000 people, at least 1500 of whom were civilians? Or that this situation has led an entire society to be labeled a level 3 humanitarian disaster by the United Nations? Or that just yesterday, a bombing run by the attacking nation targeted a public market and killed dozens of civilians?

Civil defence workers and people search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015. Saudi Arabia and Gulf region allies launched military operations including air strikes in Yemen on Thursday, officials said, to counter Iran-allied forces besieging the southern city of Aden where the U.S.-backed Yemeni president had taken refuge.  REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah - RTR4UXDR

Civil defence workers and people search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015. Saudi Arabia and Gulf region allies launched military operations including air strikes in Yemen on Thursday, officials said, to counter Iran-allied forces besieging the southern city of Aden where the U.S.-backed Yemeni president had taken refuge. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

If you didn’t know any of these facts, I wouldn’t be surprised, as the groups in question were not Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but rather Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Unlike with conflicts in Israel, the media has largely ignored this situation in favor of covering “more important” news stories. Additionally, there are no efforts to boycott Saudi Arabia, bring them into the World Court on charges or sanction them through the UN. You don’t even see large crowds of anti-Saudi protesters in the streets of Europe and the USA decrying them for their bombing campaign.

Over the past several months, Saudi Arabia has been engaged in fights with the Houthi Shia movement in Yemen, as part of a proxy war with Iran. This fight has taken place in populated areas of Yemen, displacing over 1 million civilians and killing nearly 3,000, including 1,500 confirmed civilians. At the same time, a coalition of Saudi-led forces is blockading Yemen and only allowing in a very meager amount of food and aid—these actions have left 20 million Yemenis food-insecure, if not on the verge of starvation. Unfortunately, there is no sign of this conflict ending, and the Saudis have largely refused to commit to cease-fires or calls to lessen the blockades.

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Just looking at this situation and comparing it to the recent Israel/Palestinian conflict illustrates the double standard in reactions to violence in the region.

  • Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen as part of a regional religious proxy-war with the major Shiite power of Iran. Unlike with Israel, which went to war after thousands of random rocket attacks, Saudi Arabia is going to war as part of an effort to consolidate even more power for Sunnis in the region. Despite this disparity, many question Israel’s right to defend itself while virtually nobody has decried Saudi Arabia’s “right” to invade another nation in order to promote its religion.
  • The Saudis have killed more civilians than the Israelis, in bombing raids that have not even made efforts to avoid civilians. They don’t make efforts to warn civilians of impending attacks and have used cluster-munitions. The results of these bombings are an internal displaced population that rivals the total population of Gaza and eclipses the displaced population during the last conflict.
  • The Saudi blockade has thrown more than 10X times people into economic jeopardy than any action by Israel, and has involved far more banned materials (ex. Israel lets in inspected building materials, while Saudi Arabia doesn’t).
  • Unlike the Israelis did in Gaza, the Saudis are not providing medical care to the injured and are blocking medical aid from entering the country. The Saudis are also blocking oil imports into Yemen, which has crippled its energy infrastructure and led to widespread blackouts, while the Israelis actually supplied power, internet and water to Gaza while it was fighting them.
  • Nobody is claiming that the Saudis are evil for killing thousands of Yemenis while only suffering dozens of casualties; conversely, Israel is lambasted for not suffering more casualties during its conflicts with Gaza and the differential in death tolls is endlessly presented as “proof” that the Israelis are in the wrong.

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In no way am I conflating the morality of Israel with the morality of Saudi Arabia—Israel is a democratic country with equality of rights, representation, and political access, while Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy with well-established codes of religious, gender, and racial apartheid. Yes, Israel has many problems, largely stemming from the lunatics in its right wing parties, but it is nowhere near a moral equivalence with the Saudi regime. That said, the international response to the actions of these nations is the exact opposite of this.

When Israel defends itself from rocket attacks originating in Gaza, the world condemns it; the UN sanctions it, millions protest in the streets, and nations try to show solidarity with the poor oppressed Palestinians. Conversely, when the Saudis engage in a proxy war in another nation, engaging in a roided-up and indiscriminate version of the Israeli policies, the world is silent. The media barely covers the conflict and even the most left-leaning blogs cover the conflict as a short side-article (as opposed to the full front-page spreads during Israeli conflicts).

Even if you hate Israel, you must acknowledge this double standard and try to explain it. Why does the world care so much about besieged Palestinians while it could care less about larger populations of even more besieged Yemenis?

Could it have something to do with the fact that polls have indicated that approximately 26% of the world population holds some level of anti-Semitic ideals? Or perhaps it could just be the fact that the Saudis control much of the world oil market and nobody wants to anger them? Or maybe it is just the fact that the Arab nations that fund millions in anti-Israel activism every year will not do something similar to the Saudis (who are one of the most powerful members of this group)?

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Honestly, I think that the true answer is a combination of these factors. A great deal of the anti-Israel fervor is clearly an extension of anti-Semitism (like how racists often hide behind “confederate” history or hate “welfare” culture), but there are certainly many well-intentioned people who support the Palestinians. I think that these people are simply ignorant of the reality of the Yemeni situation and would likely start protesting against the Saudis if they heard about the plight of the Yemenis. This ignorance is driven by ideological media that simply doesn’t care about dead Arabs unless they can help sell papers by catering to the anti-Israel movement.

Finally, the informed, yet inactive, anti-Israel activist base is demonstrating the worst type of hypocrisy. Their inaction in the Saudi/Yemeni situation is illustrating that they hold one of two beliefs, both of which are toxic: they either don’t care about dead Arabs unless the person who killed them is Jewish, demonstrating a complete disregard for human life that doesn’t serve to demonize a group of people; or they are indirectly admitting that that Jews must be held to a much higher standard than Arabs, simply because they expect Arabs to act brutally, repressively, and violently (thus the Saudi situation is dog bites man).

At the end of the day, we need to treat everybody EQUALLY and expect that every nation uphold the same basic level of civilized conduct. Hyper-focusing on one nation in order to cater to racists and zealots is wrong, as is ignoring the actions of the most powerful agents, simply because it is inconvenient to challenge them.

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