MINNEAPOLIS– While the mainstream media is dominated by anti-Russia headlines and the upcoming health care vote in the Senate, its silence on two of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world, Yemen and Gaza, is deafening. These crises have received little to none of the media attention that was showered last year on the battle for Aleppo in Syria or the attention currently being given to the political crisis in Venezuela.
However, the situations in these two areas are growing worse by the day. In Yemen – less than three years following the launch of the Saudi-led war against the Yemeni people – 7 million people face starvation, nearly 70 percent of the population is in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and a preventable cholera epidemic is surfacing.
Gaza, suffering from the effects of Israel’s 10-year-long illegal blockade of the coastal city, is largely without electricity, as Israel – with the backing of the Palestinian Authority – has drastically cut power to Gaza in recent months, threatening medical care, sewage and drinking water treatment, and food safety, among other essentials.
Yemen and Gaza are both on the verge of total collapse due to these crises.
Famine and disease devastating Yemen
Since 2015, Yemen has been in and out of the news following the beginning of a Saudi-led war against the popular Houthi political movement, which wrested power from former Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had been installed by the U.S. and the Saudis. While many in the media suggest that the Houthis are allied with Iran and that the conflict is, therefore, a proxy war, Iran’s minimal involvement and the Saudi’s repeated targeting of civilian infrastructure and public gatherings suggest that this is a war against the Yemeni people, one quickly approaching genocide. More than 10,000 civilians have died in the conflict so far and 3 million have been displaced.
The crisis in Yemen, which the International Rescue Committee has called the “largest humanitarian crisis of our time,” is not due only to Saudi-led military action against the embattled country. The Saudis and their coalition have blockaded Yemeni ports, preventing the entry of much-needed food, medicine, fuel and humanitarian aid. As a result, 7 million Yemenis are facing starvation, many of them children. In addition, a lack of infrastructure, fuel and medicine has made it difficult to purify water, leading to a massive cholera outbreak that is now present in all regions of Yemen. The World Health Organization estimates that the disease is spreading at an astonishing rate of 5,000 new cases a day.
UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council this past Tuesday that “This cholera scandal is entirely man-made by the conflicting parties and those beyond Yemen’s borders who are leading, supplying, fighting and perpetuating the fear and the fighting.” Last May, more than 20 top international NGOs and aid organizations jointly called on the United States to recognize and help to end the crisis in Yemen. However, their calls for aid have done little to change the actual situation in the country.
Gaza under siege as Israel, Egypt continue 10-year blockade
The situation in Yemen may very well be the worst humanitarian crisis currently taking place in the world. However, there are other parts of the world that are set to share a similar fate, particularly the besieged city of Gaza, Palestine. For more than ten years, Gaza has been illegally blockaded by the state of Israel, as well as Egypt – a blockade which, according to Amnesty International, has “unlawfully deprived Palestinians in Gaza of their most basic rights and necessities.”
The blockade – along with three military conflicts in which Israel targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure – has crippled Gaza’s economy and led to the severe deterioration of living conditions, forcing the majority of the population to become dependent on humanitarian aid. Gaza’s residents, numbering well above two million, are essentially cut off from access to the outside world, making the coastal city the world’s largest open-air concentration camp, for all intents and purposes. Even human rights workers are barred entry into the city.
While Gaza residents have resisted the blockade for years, the situation has grown dire in recent months. Gaza has been long forced to rely on electricity supplied by Israel and Egypt, the very nations who enforce the blockade. Yet, last month, the Palestinian Authority – in a move allegedly aimed at weakening the political power of Hamas in Gaza – requested that Israel drastically reduce the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, which has now dropped from 120 megawatts to 48. This meets barely 10 percent of the enclave’s electricity needs: an estimated 450 to 500 megawatts.
Things have only grown worse since the power cuts began. Two weeks ago, power lines going into Gaza from Egypt became inoperable. Then last Thursday, Gaza’s only remaining power plant completely shut down. Israeli NGO Gisha stated that the plant’s closure has left residents’ lives “disrupted, entire hospital wards are shut down, untreated sewage is spilling to the sea in heretofore-unseen quantities and beaches are becoming more dangerous for swimming.”
Numerous NGOs have spoken out against the recent power cuts, warning of a “looming” catastrophe. However, the evidence clearly shows that the catastrophe is already well under way and is quickly worsening. As noted by the Middle East Monitor, “it is shameful that international organisations continue to warn of an ‘impending’ untenable situation when the present circumstances have already deteriorated, possibly beyond repair even if the present violations are halted and reversed.” Indeed, past criticisms of Israel’s blockade by international NGOs and aid organizations have had hardly any effect on the actions of the Israeli government regarding Gaza.
Quiet hands behind the crises in Yemen, Gaza
In considering the enormity of the crises in both Yemen and Gaza, it is unusual that the international community has taken little action to stop governments from directly fomenting these humanitarian catastrophes, especially given how vocal so many top global organizations have been in recent months. But while unusual, the fact that both crises are being forgotten by the international community and the international mainstream media is not surprising, as the perpetrators of both – Saudi Arabia and Israel – are both major U.S. allies and major beneficiaries of U.S. arms sales and military aid.
In the case of Yemen, the U.S. government has had a covert but direct role in the crisis. Indeed, the U.S. government directly bombed Yemen last year – without Congressional approval – and even increased military aid to the Saudis right after the latter was caught committing an egregious war crime. Furthermore, the U.S. was recently exposed aiding UAE secret prisons that torture civilians.
Over the course of the conflict, the U.S. has supplied the Saudis with billions of dollars in weapons, most recently in a $110 billion weapons deal signed by President Donald Trump this past May. The UK government has also sold more than $3.9 billion in arms to the Saudis over the past two years despite the carnage in Yemen, because – according to UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd – its “good for industry.” Thus, taken to its logical conclusion, ending the conflict in Yemen would be bad for business.
The U.S. has also had a role in fomenting the crisis in Gaza, albeit a more covert one. The U.S., as Israel’s strongest ally, has long supported Israeli government policy and helped shield it from criticism or UN human rights inquiries. In addition, the Israeli military receives $9.8 million every day in military aid from the United States, making Israel by far the largest recipient of U.S. military aid.
Regarding the recent power crisis, Mahmoud Abbas – president of the Palestinian Authority – is widely believed to have requested the power cuts to Gaza in a bid to “show Donald Trump that he is the dominant figure in Palestinian politics and strong enough to […] be a partner to the U.S.” This suggests that the U.S. role in the Gaza crisis may be greater than has been publicly stated.
The silence of Western governments and of the mainstream media on these two humanitarian catastrophes is sadly predictable. It is just the latest evidence showing that the U.S. and its allies opportunistically raise the issue of human rights and humanitarian crises when it serves the imperialist, war-mongering agenda and ignore crises that arise as a direct consequence of that same agenda.
It also speaks to the complete lack of empathy shown by government officials and the media organizations who have chosen to be silent on these matters. While the crises are political at their root, it is innocent civilians who bear their brunt. Sadly, their suffering is considered mere collateral in the advancement of U.S. and UK weapons sales and the geopolitical goals of their allies