US Ye­me­nis de­plore Amer­ica’s role in con­flict

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - David Tay­lor

When the spicy lamb ha­neeth ar­rives at the table of New York’s Ye­men Cafe, the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter can seem very far away.

But con­ver­sa­tion is dom­i­nated by news of atroc­i­ties back east.

“They are suf­fer­ing right now,” Amer­i­can-born Sam Quhshi says of loves ones trapped by con­flict. “We are their life sup­port; if they lose us they have no­body.”

The lat­est heart­break in­volved the news that Amer­i­can-made weapons were used in an airstrike that killed dozens of chil­dren on a school bus as they were com­ing back from a pic­nic.

Last week UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ported all par­ties in Ye­men’s bloody con­flict may have com­mit­ted “war crimes”, adding that Saudi-led coali­tion airstrikes had caused “most of the doc­u­mented civil­ian ca­su­al­ties”.

This cafe has been here since the 1980s and has al­ways func­tioned as a meet­ing place and a home away from home for Ye­me­nis. The men around the table are a mix of Amer­i­can-born and more re­cently ar­rived.

Ye­me­nis run more than 1,000 of New York’s lo­cal food stores, known as bode­gas, and Brook­lyn is home to one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties of the es­ti­mated 400,000 Ye­me­nis in the US.

Ye­meni Amer­i­cans, who have tra­di­tion­ally sent home money to help build up their coun­try, are an­guished by the war, which has killed 6,600 civil­ians since 2015.

Their pain is made worse by Don­ald Trump’s travel ban, which has left civil­ians trapped in a con­flict zone, many of them rel­a­tives of US ci­ti­zens.

Gham­dan Shah­bain, 31, a fa­ther of two who runs his own busi­nesses, said of the airstrike on the school bus: “It hurts, it is a tragedy, it’s a crime, it’s very dev­as­tat­ing. They were just kids, try­ing to live their life.”

His cousin You­nis Ali, 32, Amer­i­can-born and a play­wright, said news that Amer­i­can mis­siles were used in the strike was not a sur­prise. “The US has been back­ing Saudi Ara­bia ever since they started this fight. Saudi Ara­bia does not have the in­ter­ests of Ye­men at heart and Ye­me­nis are aware of that.”

West­ern pow­ers have done lit­tle to seek a so­lu­tion to what has be­come a proxy war be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. As the New York Times put it last week, there is “Amer­i­can com­plic­ity” in what the UN has called crim­i­nal car­nage.

US sup­port for the Saudi-led airstrikes started un­der Barack Obama, but he banned sales of pre­ci­sionguided mis­siles af­ter the 2016 bomb­ing of a fu­neral in which 155 peo­ple died. Trump over­turned the ban al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter tak­ing of­fice.

All at the cafe want to see Amer­ica step up and help to end the con­flict, start­ing with help­ing food and med­i­cal sup­plies get into the coun­try.

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