art of resistance, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Yemen | 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview.

kayai so what/Then What, painting by Louay Kayali/

An estimated 18.8 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 10.3 million who are in acute need. Escalating conflict since March 2015 has created a vast protection crisis in which millions face risks to their safety and basic rights, and are struggling to survive.

Even before March 25, 2015, when the conflict in Yemen escalated, the country faced enormous levels of humanitarian need, with 15.9 million people requiring some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance in late 2014. These needs stemmed from years of poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law – including widespread violations of human rights.

The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 25 October 2016, health facilities had reported almost 44,000 casualties (including nearly 7,100 deaths) – an average of 75 people killed or injured every day. These figures significantly undercount the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities after 19 months of war and many people’s inability to access healthcare at all.

Read the full report on Yemen here.

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art of resistance, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

(Interview) Judith Brown: Yemen Is A Mess & It’s Getting Worse.

24/photo © Josef Hoflehner/

The war in Yemen, with all of its tragedies, keeps on unravelling far from the media flashlights. In a recent horrific attack in Sana’a, when Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, more than 200 people were killed, and more than 500 were injured.

A day after the attack in Sana’a, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who easily forgets his own mistakes (from 1978 till today), called for an attack on the enemy – Saudi Arabia. On the same day, the White House issued a statement saying it had begun an “immediate review” of its support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It is hard to believe that there will be such a review, since this is not the first attack by Saudi Arabia, and it will probably not be the last one.

There have been numerous attacks – on schools, hospitals, markets – killing and injuring thousands of civillians. In August, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) withdrew their staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after a coalition airstrike on a hospital in Hajjah killed 19 people. Countless attacks on health facilities and services all over Yemen, happened despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals with the parties involved in the conflict.

In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented 43 airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, which have killed more than 670 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions.

The infrastructure in Yemen has been significantly devasted during the last couple of years, and humanitarian organisations have been sending warnings about the lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance. That fact, compounded by a shortage of funding, means that famine is a possibility for millions of people.

We’ve discussed Yemen with Judith Brown, activist and aid worker from United Kingdom, who started the page Yemen News Today, which brings daily news from Yemen in English. Brown worked with refugees in Yemen from 1998 until 2001 and has visited the country every year from 2001 until 2014. She is now seventy years old and retired, but has recently started postdoctoral research into the media coverage of the Yemen war.

You’ve started the page Yemen News Today, trying to bring daily news from Yemen to the wider audiences, in English. How did that idea come to you, was it due to the lack of news from Yemen in the mainstream media?

I began Yemen News Today out of desperation because there was no news of Yemen in the media. I also know that I have a big Yemeni following now. My motivation was to tell as many people in the West as I could about the suffering, with the aim of increasing awareness and political pressure.

You’ve also worked as a manager at Refugee Health Project in Yemen, until 2001. What are your experiences like – how did the situation with refugees change over the last couple of years?

I left the refugee health programme in 2001, and this programme was for international refugees. Although I understand that since the Saada wars the UN had taken some responsibility for the displaced people – something they are not doing now simply because of the lack of resources.

For a time after the start of the war all the international employees were moved out of Yemen and many of the local staff were not able to function because they too were displaced, especially in Aden where the biggest refugee programmes are. I think the UN refugee offices are functioning now in Aden and Sana’a, but I am not sure exactly what their responsibilities are.

85154702_yemen_humanitarian_crisis/photo: BBC, 2015/

In a recent interview with Status Hour, journalist Safa al Ahmad argues that there’s no longer a Yemen, that North and South are completely separate from each other. Would you agree with that?

The north and south are functioning as at least two separate parts for complex reasons. Firstly, Saudi Arabia and UAE have a difficult relationship and different aims due to the war and this has meant they have largely divided their sphere of responsibilities, with Saudi controlling the war in the north and UAE taking little responsibility for the south militarily, but it is developing commercial interests there.

There is also animosity in both parts, but especially Hadramaut governors made statements about a year ago that they would not accept anyone from the old North Yemen, and many people there have developed an intolerant Sunni position, but they also want to keep free of the effects of the Yemen war.

In Aden the secessionist movement is strong – though not supported by everyone by any means – and the secessionists have said they will not accept any people from the north or even southerners that have lived for a long time in the north, and it seems to be that Aden Lahj and Bab al Mandab operate as a separate entity. They are not keen on having people from east and central Yemen move to Aden either because of their fears of the militias from there taking control – such as Al-Qaeda but not limited to Al-Qaeda. Taiz is more or less on its own. And the old north (less Taiz) is under the control of the Houthis and the old Yemen army.

What is happening with the government?

What is true is that in effect there are two systems of government, one in Sana’a and one mostly in Riyadh (with a few of the Riyadh ministers in Aden). There are two Yemen armies – most of the original army support the Houthis, and the new army is paid for by Saudi Arabia and trained by UAE  (KSA are mostly in Aden). There now appear to be two banks as president Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi moved the central Yemen bank to Aden, with new staff, and the remaining central bank staff who were sacked by Hadi are still in Sana’a. So it’s a mess. As in all wars.

You’re constantly trying to bring attention to the issues of starvation and famine in Yemen. With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations. How does that look like on the ground, how do the people survive?

The famine is everywhere in the north, but worst in Hodeida and the north west. It is getting more and more difficult for families to cope – even middle class families who used to have money don’t know how they can afford food. People have used up their savings and there are few jobs and little humanitarian aid getting in. Those with homes and businesses destroyed are not able to get any compensation.

Some people have family and friends overseas who are helping them to survive. The rich Inside Yemen have been very generous – for example providing most of the free water in cities. But even their resources are strained now because there is so much need. Some are just very hungry and some are starving to death, especially the very young. There are very few resources for the displaced.

Where do we move from now, what can be done in this situation?

It is difficult to see how the situation will change unless USA and UK stop their unconditional support for Saudi Arabia. I really don’t know what can be done and I feel desperate sometimes. It is a situation even more complex than Syria and it is escalating as USA seems to have joined in the war and Iranian warships are now openly stating that they are in Yemeni waters. But this is still not in the Western media. I just feel I have to keep on trying to get the story out and do what I can. But it’s not enough.

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This interview was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Playlist: The Melody Of Our Alienation (Yemen).

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                                                                                     /photo  © Jonathon Collins/

A horrific attack in Sana’a yesterday (Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, leaving more than 200 people killed, and more than 500 injured) took me back to Yemen and its tragedies, most of which are unravelling far from the media flashlights.

At the same time, there are reports about intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals being filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganisation of the central bank that is worrying importers.

With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

It’s like Safa Al Ahmad describes it in an interview with Status Hour“Fighters are the ones who get salaries these days in Yemen, nobody else does. It just goes to show you how fragile the situation has become. I would argue that there’s no longer a Yemen, North and South are completely separate from each other”.

The playlist today is a small way of reaching out to Sana’a, to Yemen. The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

It’s a way of searching for something soft, something gentle, something that makes sense amidst this chaos:

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

Previous Playlist:

Ruba Shamshoum

Jerusalem in my heart

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: Still Moving, Still Standing Still.

72/Aden, Yemen. image © Josef Hoflehner/

A week ago, Human Rights Watch released a statement calling on participants to the Yemen peace talks to “support international investigations, transitional justice, and victim compensation as key elements of any agreement.”

HRW warned that the armed conflict in Yemen has been characterized by numerous violations of the laws of war by all sides, which have not been investigated nor have resulted in any redress for victims of unlawful attacks.

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“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of nine Arab countries has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes against residential neighborhoods, markets, and other civilian structures causing several hundred civilian casualties. Ansar Allah, the northern group, also known as the Houthis, and other armed groups on both sides have committed various abuses in ground operations. Although a ceasefire was announced on April 10, fighting has continued across Yemen”, HRW report says.

Human Rights Watch has documented new coalition airstrikes that appear to be unlawful. Six attacks in and around the capital, Sanaa, in January and February, killed 28 civilians, including 12 children, and wounded at least 13 others.

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In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented 43 airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, which have killed more than 670 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions.

The HRW report comes as MSF decided to withdraw from the World Humanitarian Summit due to a lack of confidence that the summit will address weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response in conflict zones including Yemen and Syria.

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HRW is unaware of any investigations by Saudi Arabia or other members of the coalition into allegedly unlawful attacks or abuses, or of any compensation for victims. In their public statements, none of the participants in the talks has indicated a need to include accountability or redress in the peace process.

Just two days ago, a number of outlets including Al Arabiya and Press TV, reported that direct peace talks were indefinitely postponed after the Hadi government withdrew due to a “lack of progress”. Meanwhile, the Houthis accuse the coalition of launching new airstrikes that killed seven people in Nihm.

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Couple of weeks ago, I posted the interview Status Hour did with Safa al Ahmad, freelance journalist and filmmaker who has been reporting on Yemen  since 2010. In case you haven’t done it yet – do listen to Ahmad, she is one of the few reporters able to talk about the complexity of the situation on the ground in Yemen today.

Throughout this post, I included photos from the great Austrian photographer Josef Hoflehner, most of them taken in Yemen in 2005.

I chose the photos that (to me) depict a state of waiting, of moving (and wanting to move) and standing still at the same time. I think that is the state most Yemenis find themselves in these days.

joseph//all photos © Josef Hoflehner//

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art of resistance, Yemen

Safa Al Ahmad: There’s No Longer A Yemen.

/photo © Alex Potter/

Safa Al Ahmad is a Saudi freelance journalist and filmmaker. Her focus is the Arabian Peninsula, primarily Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and her work so far has been insightful, corageous, informative and mesmerizing in many ways.

She has been reporting on Yemen since 2010, and is one of the rare journalists who spent much time inside the country (she keeps going there) and is able to talk about the complexity of the situation on the ground today.

I am so happy Status Hour recently aired an interview with her. In conversation with Adel Iskandar, Al Ahmad delves into her recent coverage of Yemen reflecting on the humanitarian disaster there, the various actors on the ground, and the gendered dimensions of covering this conflict.

“Fighters are the ones who get salaries these days in Yemen, nobody else does. It just goes to show you how fragile the situation has become. I would argue that there’s no longer a Yemen, North and South are completely separate from each other”, Ahmad says.

Please listen to this important interview and stay informed about the horrendous situation in Yemen, which remains under-reported and totally neglected.

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art of resistance, travel, Yemen

Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow.

jon/Yemen, photo © Jonathon Collins/

Baga (Nigeria), Fotokol (Cameroon), Sana’a (Yemen), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Khan Bani Saad (Iraq), Kabul (Afghanistan), Baghdad (Iraq), Maiduguri (Nigeria), Ankara (Turkey), Beirut (Lebanon), Paris (France). Just some of the places that saw horrible terrorist attacks this year. Fairuz keeps on playing for two days in my room – Habaytak bisayf.

I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter,

I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter

The circle of love and sadness, life spinning. I feel like Fairuz can fill the space with her voice, as far as the sky goes. Somehow, her voice always brings comfort. I hope there is a way to find comfort for those who lost their loved ones in Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon, France… And all the other places that didn’t make it to this list – that were left out, their tragedies still unrecognized.

One of the places of (silent) constant sorrow this year is Yemen. I wrote so much about the beauty of Yemen, about the importance of it, but I still feel the need to talk about it and I still feel the need to share everything I can.

I recently discovered a beautiful photo essay by Jonathon (Jon) Collins – the way he captured Yemen and its people is mesmerizing. Collins is a freelance photographer and writer based in Sydney and his work aims to show that every corner of the world has a story to tell, and for every landscape there is a memory.

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About his experience of Yemeni culture, he says:

“Another key aspect of Yemeni culture is that life is not insular, and the typical nuclear family structure we are used to in Western societies does not apply; in fact, a much wider network is considered to be family.

It is the most memorable part of travelling in the country to me: sitting down to a meal and sharing it with a group of people all from a single plate; stopping the car to give a lift to families on the side of road; getting handed the best qat leaves from a new friend; or sharing chai with another from a used tin can.

In every restaurant or in the home, you will see an arm waving to welcome you to sit and share with another. It is an undeniably generous quality that says a lot about Yemeni culture.”

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Collins also talks about the way people cope with harshness every day brings upon them:

“In light of everything the Yemeni population face, they carry on with such an incredibly humble and humorous demeanor in everyday life. In conversations about corruption in politics, the growing presence of Al Qaeda, the ongoing problem of water scarcity, or whatever other major issues the nation is experiencing right now, you will still hear a joke, then laughter, and most will say, ‘it will get better in time, Inshallah’. Life must go on in the meantime.”

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He continues to say:

“It may have developed as a mechanism to cope with disruptions to everyday life, or perhaps it is simply another historic trait of the Yemeni people; but one thing that surprised me was just how incredibly funny the people in Yemen were. I cannot count the amount of times I was in stitches laughing at a joke made, someone’s dry humor, sarcastic comment or watching a scene unfold that felt more like a comedy stint than real life.

Whether it was a group of women pretending to slap a man for short-changing them at a market stall, the owner of the sweet shop getting teased about how many desserts he ate, someone trying to speak English without knowing more than three words, or joking over the size of the qat bulging in someone’s mouth; the laughter was contagious. Yemenis are easily the most hilarious locals I’ve experienced in all the countries I’ve been, and it made each day I spent there so much more enjoyable.”

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/all photos © Jonathon Collins/

For the full interview with Collins and his photo essay from Yemen, visit Passion Passport, and to find out more about his work visit his website.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: The Melody of Our Alienation.

max pam/image © Max Pam, Ramadan in Yemen (1993)/

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.

No eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. The faithful waiting for the moment. The cannon booms from the mosque in the afterglow of the day. KABOUMMM and a frenzy of quat buying, tea drinking and food eating begins in the suqs and squares and oases and towns all over the country. Everyone happy, elated laughing and joking sitting down together as one nation.

And you know what, people always wanted me to share and be part of their Ramadan, their community, their Yemen. I travelled all over the country with them. To Shibam, Taizz, Al Mukallah, Sanaa, over the desert, by the sea and into the mountains. The shared taxis were always a half past dead Peugeot 405’s with sometimes 10 or 12 people jammed in.

The 92 pages of this book give my version of that unforgettable Ramadan month. An experience freely given to me by the generosity of Yemeni people.”

That is how Max Pam described his experience of Yemen twenty-two years ago, summed up in his journal Ramadan in Yemen.

Twenty-two years later in Yemen, at least 120 people are dead after Saudi-led airstrikes pummeled a residential neighborhood in the western port city of Mokha late Friday. It was the deadliest wave of bombings since the U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels began in March. The strikes hit a housing complex for power plant workers, flattening buildings and sparking fires that spread throughout the neighborhood and burned alive women, children and elderly.

One of the Mokha residents described the onslaught: “There were continuous airstrikes without any breaks. And we have no military men, no devils. We don’t even have gunmen around here. We couldn’t get to our children. There were some 20 bodies that I pulled out with my own hands and counted. Who is to blame for this?”

The ceasefire took effect Sunday night at midnight, but within hours both sides said the other had resumed attack.

As Yemeni poet Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh asks in The Melody of Our Alienation: “Has nonsense become common sense? Has the non-rational become rational?”

His poem comes to my mind because it is a beautiful act of devotion and hope in these bad times for Yemen. But, it also comes to my mind because the title The Melody of Our Alienation illustrates the position of the outside world towards Yemen (and not just Yemen) perfectly. All these wars and conflicts played to the tunes of our alienation – from the rest of the world, from ‘others’, from anything and everything that is not Me, Myself & I.

Watch and listen. In the end, The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

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