There are many institutions and establishments that call Palo Alto home. Some of the more prominent ones, of course, include Stanford University and the Nature Preserve. But the city is also home to the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, a major division of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers.
Lockheed Martin is also one of the key contractors involved in an arms deal to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, which has used them to kill dozens of children in Yemen.
While Yemen feels like it’s a world away (over 8,000 miles from my apartment in Fremont, to be exact) and may seem irrelevant to us as we deal with our own lockdowns over COVID-19, it is home to my family, some of which moved to California over four decades ago. It is also home to over 28 million other Yemenis.
Silicon Valley has long been intertwined with money and interests flowing in from Saudi Arabia. It is only fair to remind its residents that not only do we have a bomb-making company in our midst, but that we may also have money tainted by war crimes pouring in to support local elected officials, businesses and corporations.
This week, we marked the fifth anniversary since the United States military began supporting the Saudi-led war on the poorest nation in the Arab world. Five years in which companies such as Lockheed Martin have been exporting arms to the desert kingdom, which has used them to bombard famine-stricken Yemen.
On Thursday, just a couple days after the fifth anniversary of the conflict, those warring parties agreed to a nationwide ceasefire. Even if on-the-ground conflicts cease, Yemen faces a new danger.
According to the United Nations, the five-year conflict created the world’s worst (man-made) humanitarian crisis that we’ve seen in decades.
Since 2015, over 100,000 Yemenis were killed in the conflict, over 85,000 children may have starved to death and as many as 2 million people have contracted cholera. Yemen has not been safe from airstrikes, displacement, disease, or hunger for five years. Now, while the world grapples with a new reality dealing with a contagious virus, Yemen is even more vulnerable to death from this new infection and ill equipped to counter it.
The U.S. is struggling with pandemic mitigation measures as I write this. We are merely beginning to experience what life is like under the threat of uncertainty. Many of us are struggling to cope being out of work and locked out of school. We are complying with social isolation policies in order to keep our communities safe. That is a noble priority.
But Yemen has known for years what it’s like to live in fear. As a war-torn country, it can not survive if COVID-19 enters. The stakes are so much higher now.
Many of us know that only Congress has the power to authorize war. But we also know from the war in Iraq, that many U.S. administrations have waged endless wars ever since without the support or approval of Congress.
Over the last few years, many progressive lawmakers attempted to challenge the role of the U.S. in the war in Yemen. One of my favorites is Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley and has led efforts to end U.S. military support and arms sales to Saudi Arabia through the War Powers Act and other legislation.
We celebrated a big win last April when a bipartisan War Powers resolution passed both chambers—a historic measure that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. As promised, however, Trump vetoed the bill and instead struck an $8 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan-defying Congress.
As taxpayers and constituents, we not only have the right to speak up against the role of our government in war crimes in Yemen (and elsewhere), we also have a duty to hold our businesses, establishments and politicians accountable for their complicity. Silicon Valley stands as a beacon of success for the word’s smartest inventors and innovators. That’s why it’s also a moral imperative that this progress remains rooted in social justice.
Today, I am writing about five years of war. For me, it’s been filled with five years of anxiety and worry for my relatives who still live in Yemen. My family and neighbors know that bombs that have hit school buses, hospitals and weddings in Yemen were made in the U.S.A. They also know that the U.S. has been helping the Saudis bomb them.
As an American, it’s hard for me to not feel guilt and anguish over this and do nothing. It’s going to take a lot of pressure from people of conscience to make our lawmakers and this administration reconsider our role in the region. It’s my hope that at least Silicon Valley can do the right thing and help Yemen during this new chapter of great need.
In a joint statement on Thursday, Khanna and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded the call for the U.S. to intervene in Yemen in a very different way.
“As the coronavirus spreads all over the world, Yemenis may be the planet’s most vulnerable people in the face of this pandemic,” the lawmakers said. They have suffered five years of horrendous warfare and 80 percent of them now rely on humanitarian aid just to survive. A national ceasefire could not come a moment too soon.”
The pair urged the United States to move urgently to make sure this ceasefire in Yemen cannot be reversed. They called for an end to the U.S. selling weapons and spare parts to the Saudis and an end to offering political backing and logistical support as well.
With the war crisis morphing into a health crisis, Sanders and Khanna said we must stop the Trump administration’s cuts to hundreds of millions of dollars in USAID to Yemen. They said the only way forward is to pair diplomatic support for a political settlement with coordinated efforts to use this truce as an opportunity to pull millions of Yemenis back from the brink of starvation.
“We are proud to have worked together to build bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate to end this unconstitutional war,” they said. “Now is the time for President Trump to act. Yemen needs peace, food, medicine, and diplomacy—not U.S. bombs.”
I hope Silicon Valley can also do the right thing. I hope you won’t hear from me next year, highlighting six years of war. Because Yemen can’t wait for peace any longer.
Jehan Hakim is a San Francisco native who lives in Fremont with her three teens and a first-grader. Her family is from Yemen. She’s the Founder and Chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, a social advocacy group working to resist anti-Yemeni policies. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].