US Yemenis deplore America’s role in conflict
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.