Friday, June 14, 2024

Many in the United States are struggling. Millions have lost jobs and others work in unsafe conditions. We are fearful when we must venture out in public, aware that an unseen airborne pathogen could at any time infect, and ultimately kill, us.

But let’s consider what our situation would be like if, as in several countries facing U.S. economic sanctions or military assaults from U.S. forces or weapons, we didn’t have medical facilities to go to, had bombs falling around us and lacked adequate supplies of food, water and electricity.

For the past five years, this has been the experience of millions of people in Yemen. Beginning under the Obama administration and continuing under the Trump administration, the United States has been complicit in Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen. A primary way the United States has enabled Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen has been through weapons sales. According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the Saudi Arabian government is the biggest client of the United States arms industry, buying more than $18 billion of aircraft, bombs and missiles.

Raytheon Technologies, located in Waltham and the second-largest arms manufacturer in the world, is a major provider of these weapons to Saudi Arabia. In Yemen, its weapons are used by Saudi Arabia to commit war crimes, including bombing civilian targets such as weddings and funerals as well as critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants. This has resulted in outbreaks of preventable diseases including dengue, diphtheria, mumps and cholera. In 2017 and 2019, Yemen recorded the two largest numbers of suspected cases of cholera in any country in a single year, with the current total of suspected cases estimated to be more than 2.3 million. A UN study estimates that more than 230,000 Yeminis will have perished by the end of 2020. Of that, 131,000 will die due to a lack of food, health services and infrastructure. Already, 100,000 people have died, and millions have been displaced. A 2018 Save The Children study determined that more than 85,000 children had starved to death since 2015.

As the crisis in Yemen worsened, activists across the country mobilized to resist the war and call on U.S. defense companies to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. In 2018, Massachusetts activists formed the Raytheon Anti-War Campaign to expose Raytheon’s role in Yemen and demand that the company end all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. While such opposition increased, Congressional representatives also mobilized to stop weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. In response to the public outcry against the brutal war, Raytheon – which has made more than $5 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia – hired a lobbyist who attended West Point with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper (who was previously Raytheon’s top lobbyist) to influence representatives against such a move. Raytheon is hellbent on ensuring it can profit off the suffering of the Yemeni people. Even amid the current pandemic, Saudi Arabia has violated a cease-fire and, to this day, continues to bomb Yemen while Raytheon’s stock value continues to rise.

The coronavirus threatens to exacerbate the already disastrous situation in Yemen. Lockdowns across the globe have the potential to disrupt humanitarian aid supply chains – something 80 percent of Yemen’s population relies on for food. Half of Yemen’s health facilities do not function and the country has one oxygen cylinder per month for every 2.5 million people. The World Health Organization modeled possible scenarios in Yemen and found that under worst-case scenarios, half of Yemen’s population of 30 million could be infected and more than 40,000 could die.

The pandemic is shining a light on the already dire situation for the people of Yemen. The conditions in Yemen created by Saudi Arabia’s use of Raytheon weapons have left the people in an extremely precarious position and it is up to us – Massachusetts residents – to put pressure on Raytheon to end its involvement in Yemen. By coming together, we can put an end to the war in Yemen and stop the deadly spread of the virus in its tracks.

Ana Milosavljevic, Peace and Social Justice Committee of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers)