Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Recently, Christiane Amanpour interviewed Saudi-led Arab coalition spokesman Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Asiri. During the interview, she showed him a heart-wrenching photo of a starving Yemeni woman without providing any details about the picture, like where and when was it taken.
“I’m sure that this footage was taken in Taiz, a city besieged by the Houthis,” Al-Asiri told Amanpour asking her if she knows where the picture was taken.
Interestingly, and in a strange statement which shouldn't come from any journalist, let alone a reputable one, Amanpour replied saying: "I don't care.”
However, the truth is Amanpour should care because as it emerged later thanks to the efforts of researches and the reach of social media, that the photo in question had been in circulation on the Internet since 2014, i.e. long before the beginning of the Saudi-led military campaign. Of course, Amanpour is yet to admit this and apologize.
Now, the photo issue and the war aside, the reality sadly is that Yemen has always been an impoverished country. Even 20 years ago, when I was posted along the Saudi-Yemeni border, starved and tired Yemeni women used to be a common sight.
During those days, security was not a concern for us. The only issue was tens of thousands of Yemenis crossing illegally into Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. They were never arrested or verbally abused. Instead we, Saudi soldiers, used to give them our food ration and many times we gave them money from our own pockets and sent them back. Between 1996 and 1997, I was assigned to be the second-in-command of a Naval Marine Force stationed in Jazan. The Saudi-Yemeni border reveals the most visible social divide between two countries. On the northern side of the border there is Saudi Arabia, which is one of the world’s richest, most stable and most secure countries. And on the southern side of the border, there is Yemen, which is known to be one of the poorest and unstable countries in the world.
For decades, Yemen had been relying heavily on financial aid from Saudi Arabia for its major infrastructure projects. In addition, remittances from Yemeni expatriates living and working in Saudi Arabia proved to be a vital lifeline for the Yemeni economy.
Coming back to my posting at the Saudi-Yemeni border, as I said it was very safe and secure during that time. I wanted to see the real life along the borders. Jazan like all other cities in the Kingdom was full of Yemenis living and working side by side along with Saudis. Along the borders between the two countries, there are very high mountaintops that rise thousands of feet making it difficult to control or monitor any human movement. Despite the difficult terrain, Yemenis continued to pour into the Kingdom to escape economic hardships in their own country. In other words, the social divide was and still is very deep. Ironically, I have seen this kind of social divide between the United States and Mexico. The US had to build a fence along some parts of its borders to prevent Mexicans to illegally cross the borders but we never thought of constructing any fence. No Saudi soldier has ever fired a single bullet on any Yemeni trying to illegally enter the Kingdom.
So, while journalists like Amanpour have every right to ask questions, but they need to get their facts straight and seek to get the truth rather than create sensational television by — intentionally or not — using an old, irrelevant picture to attempt and embarrass a military spokesperson. Indeed, the international community should remember it is the Saudis who had been feeding starving Yemenis for a long time.
More importantly, let us not forget that it is the Houthis who have put their own countrymen in harm’s way, and who are until today blocking crucial aid and food from coming into the country.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. It’s the Houthis Who Are Starving Yemenis, Ms. Amanpour reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.