I woke up late as usual, my days a mix of sleep, worry, and joblessness. I sat in front of the TV trying to catch the latest news on the war in my country, Yemen. The main channel aligned with the Saudi-led Coalition, Al Arabiya Al Hadath, was showing the latest satellite images of Saudi air strikes at the Najran front in the northern part of Yemen’s Sa’ada governorate, just south of Saudi Arabia. As always, the black and white images were scary and abstract, but a viewer can distinguish the general details of the operation: a rocket suddenly comes from nowhere to blast a group of people on the ground beside their vehicle.
The Al Hadith report identified the targets in the video as Houthi fighters, also known as Ansar Allah, the religious-political-armed movement that emerged from Sa’ada in northern Yemen in the 1990s and now controls extensive territory, including Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. After three years of war, my gut reaction to seeing these images is to wonder whether the pilots hit an actual target with their supposed “smart weapons” or, as is more common, ended up killing innocent civilians, as has been reported continuously by international human rights organizations as well as the United Nations. UN reporting puts the civilian death toll at more than 5,000 since 2015, with some three million people internally displaced. The tone of the Saudi news reports, as always, was upbeat and boastful: they are proud of their access to U.S.-made weapons and portray themselves, misleadingly, as having the upper hand.
I could not take it any further and had to switch off the TV, wondering when this war and its continuous, escalating, devastating humanitarian catastrophe will be over. I come across dramatic images every day in my city, Sana'a, and elsewhere in the country when I move between the capital and my family’s village in the countryside. In addition to trying to secure my family’s daily bread, I spend hours most days trying to squeeze as much news as possible out of a weak, solar-powered Internet signal, but most people have stopped following the news, which is predominated by propaganda. People cannot take it any longer; they do not even care who wins, only hoping that the war will end. In the street, people don’t even raise their heads to see where a passing fighter jet or incoming rocket will strike.
Two days later, as I was walking to my home, I heard the screams of women and children coming from my house – screams of panic and fear. I rushed there and learned that my cousin, Mohammed, had just been killed.
Mohammed had been fighting with Ansar Allah, but was loyal to the General People’s Congress (GPC), founded by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite fighting several wars with the Houthis while in office, Saleh engineered an alliance with Ansar Allah after being removed from office in 2012, precipitating the civil war. Saleh was, himself, killed by Houthi fighters in December 2017 after breaking the alliance and siding with his former enemies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
I had been sad and afraid when I first heard Mohammed had joined the fighting – and maybe also proud, hoping he would emerge safely and become a better man. He picked the GPC/Houthis because this was the only group resisting what nearly everyone here refers to as “the U.S.-Saudi” aggression, given America's supply of arms and support to the Saudi-led coalition. A proud Yemeni, Mohammed saw his participation as taking a nationalist, patriotic stand. He was also jobless, like so many Yemeni men, and saw the fighting as an exciting, interesting escape from otherwise desperate surroundings and family strain. My uncle, his father, had encouraged him to join, and Mohammed embraced the camaraderie.
Now, hearing that he was dead, I was at a loss as to what to do other than to rush to my uncle’s house. It was so sad there, everyone weeping. The men were jumping everywhere, making cell phone calls. The details – that Mohammed had been killed in a Saudi air strike – had been conveyed to my uncle by Mohammed’s military field commander. Some family members were proud, thanking Allah. Others were confused and distracted and could not yet believe it. Agony and tears dominated the scene.
They brought Mohammed’s body to Al Kuwait Hospital in Sana'a. The place was full of bodies – of Ansar Allah fighters, as well as many more civilian causalities from the roads, cities, and towns from which the conflict has exacted its toll. Mohammed's brothers insisted upon seeing the body to make sure it was him. They entered and checked. It was Mohammed. It was his face. They started crying and screaming. The morgue attendant said to them, “Give thanks to Allah that his body is in one piece, and that he has been spared too many burns from the airstrike.”
The family had to come together and be strong to prepare for the funeral, which was partially organized and paid for by Ansar Allah. It was held after Friday prayers. Hundreds of friends, family and colleagues attended. In a long convoy of cars with Mohammed’s picture displayed everywhere, we all took him to his final resting place in Rowdhat Al Shouhada'a, Garden of the Martyrs. May he rest in peace.
*The author requested that his writing be published anonymously to protect the safety of his family.