Peace in Yemen One Step Closer After Historic Prisoner Exchange
The Saudi-backed government forces in Yemen and the rebel Houthis completed a three-day prisoner exchange on April 16. Close to 900 prisoners have been exchanged between the two warring sides through mid-April. The exchange is the result of an agreement reached in Switzerland in March as part of a round of ongoing peace and reconciliation talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia—the primary supporter of the Yemeni government.
The historic peace talks are seen as a result of the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China. A resolution toward ending the years-long war in Yemen was reportedly one of the key issues in the Saudi-Iran rapprochement.
The prisoner exchange has been widely recognized as an important step towards peace in a war that has already claimed over 1.5 million lives, according to the Houthi-backed administration in Sana’a, and displaced millions. As a consequence of the Saudi-imposed blockade, millions of people, including at least 2.2 million children, have also suffered from acute malnutrition and hunger.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who helped broker the prisoner exchange agreement in Switzerland, commented, “This release operation comes at a time of hope for Yemen as a reminder that constructive dialogue and mutual compromises are powerful tools capable of achieving great outcomes. Today, hundreds of Yemeni families get to celebrate Eid with their loved ones because the parties negotiated and reached an agreement. I hope this spirit is reflected in ongoing efforts to advance a comprehensive political solution.”
On Prisoners’ Day, Palestinians Stand in Solidarity With Their 5,000 Comrades in Israeli Occupation Jails
On April 16, the eve of Prisoners’ Day, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) stated that a jailed Palestinian, Khader Adnan, is in a critical state and needs immediate hospitalization. Adnan is currently on an indefinite hunger strike against his unlawful detention by the Israeli occupation forces.
Adnan, aged 45, has completed over 70 days of his hunger strike and is currently inside Israel’s notorious Ramla prison clinic, despite repeated appeals to shift him to a proper hospital. The PPS claimed that Adnan is already suffering from serious health issues and “Israel’s refusal to move him to a hospital aims at causing him chronic diseases that are difficult to treat later.”
Adnan has been arrested 12 times in the last 20 years and has spent over eight years altogether in Israeli administrative detention. He has been on hunger strike since the beginning of his present incarceration, in the first week of February. This is his sixth hunger strike and his longest so far.
Palestinians mark Prisoners’ Day every year on April 17 to express solidarity with their freedom fighters inside Israeli prisons. According to a joint report published on the occasion, there are around 4,900 Palestinians inside different Israeli prisons, including 31 women and 160 children.
Most Palestinian prisoners face widespread atrocities from the Israeli prison authorities, including denial of family meetings, restrictions on interactions with other prisoners, and torture.
There are two separate Sheikh Jarrah stories —one read and watched in the news and another that receives little media coverage or due analysis.
The obvious story is that of the nightly raids and violence meted out by Israeli police and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the devastated East Jerusalem neighborhood.
For weeks, thousands of Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinian communities in Jerusalem’s Old City. Their objective is the removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They are not acting alone. Their riots and rampages are directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of extremist Zionist and Jewish groups, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement. Their unfounded claims, violent actions and abhorrent chant “Death to the Arabs” are validated by Israeli politicians, such as Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King.
Here is a little introduction to the political discourse of Ben-Gvir and King, who were caught on video shouting and insulting a wounded Palestinian protester. The video starts with MK Ben-Gvir disparagingly yelling at a Palestinian who was apparently wounded by Israeli police, yet returned to protest against the evictions planned for Sheikh Jarrah.
Ben-Gvir is heard shouting, “Abu Hummus, how is your ass?”
“The bullet is still there, that’s why he is limping,” responds the Deputy Mayor, King, to Ben-Gvir. King continues, “Did they take the bullet out of your ass? Did they take it out already? It is a pity it did not go in here,” King continues, pointing to his head.
Delighted with what they perceive to be a whimsical commentary on the wounding of the Palestinian, Ben-Gvir and King’s entourage of Jewish extremists laugh.
While “Abu Hummus”, wounded yet still protesting, is a testament to the tenacity of the Palestinian people, King, Ben-Gvir, the settlers and the police are a representation of the united Israeli front aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians and ensuring Jewish majority in Jerusalem.
Another important participant in the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign in Jerusalem is Israel’s court system which has provided a legal cover for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The legal foundation of the Jewish settlers’ constant attempts at acquiring more Palestinian properties can be traced back to a specific 1970 law, known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allowed Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. While Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims, Israeli courts have generously handed Palestinian homes, lands and other assets to Jewish claimants. In turn, these homes, as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land.
Last February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to many Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Following a Palestinian and international backlash, it offered Palestinians a ‘compromise’, whereby Palestinian families relinquished ownership rights to their homes and agreed to continue to live there as tenants, paying rents to the very illegal Jewish settlers who have stolen their homes in the first place, but who are now armed with a court decision.
However, the ‘logic’ through which Jews claim Palestinian properties as their own should not be associated with a few extremist organizations. After all, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was not the work of a few extreme Zionists. Similarly, the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the massive settlement enterprise that followed was not the brainchild of a few extreme individuals. Colonialism in Israel was, and remains, a state-run project, which ultimately aims at achieving the same objective that is being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah—the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to ensure Jewish demographic majority.
This is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, one that cannot be expressed by a few news bytes or social media posts. However, this most relevant narrative is largely hidden. It is easier to blame a few Jewish extremists than to hold the entire Israeli government accountable. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is constantly manipulating the subject of demographics to advance the interests of his Jewish constituency. He is a strong believer in an exclusive Jewish state and also fully aware of the political influence of Jewish settlers. For example, shortly before the March 23 elections, Netanyahu made a decision to greenlight the construction of 540 illegal settlement units in the so-called Har-Homa E Area (Abu Ghneim Mountain) in the occupied West Bank, in the hope of acquiring as many votes as possible.
While the Sheikh Jarrah story is garnering some attention even in mainstream U.S. media, there is a near-complete absence of any depth to that coverage, namely the fact that Sheikh Jarrah is not the exception but the norm. Sadly, as Palestinians and their supporters try to circumvent widespread media censorship by reaching out directly to civil societies across the world using social media platforms, they are often censored there, as well.
One of the videos initially censored by Instagram is that of Muna al-Kurd, a Palestinian woman who had lost her home in Sheikh Jarrah to a Jewish settler by the name of Yakub.
“Yakub, you know this is not your house,” Muna is seen outside her home, speaking to Yakub.
Yakub answers, “Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.
Muna: “You are stealing my house.”
Yakub: “And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”
Muna: “No. No one is allowed to steal it.”
The untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, of Jerusalem – in fact, of all of Palestine—is that of Muna and Yakub, the former representing Palestine, the latter, Israel. For justice to ever be attained, Muna must be allowed to reclaim her stolen home and Yakub must be held accountable for his crime.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and
Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is ramzybaroud.net.
At the High Line, a popular tourist attraction in New York City, visitors to the West side of Lower Manhattan ascend above street level to what was once an elevated freight train line and is now a tranquil and architecturally intriguing promenade. Here walkers enjoy a park-like openness; with fellow strollers they experience urban beauty, art and the wonder of comradeship.
In late May, a Predator drone replica, appearing suddenly above the High Line promenade at 30th Street, might seem to scrutinize people below. The “gaze” of the sleek, white sculpture by Sam Durant, called “Untitled, (drone),” in the shape of the U.S. military’s Predator killer drone, will sweep unpredictably over the people below, rotating atop its 25-foot-high steel pole, its direction guided by the wind.
Unlike the real Predator, it won’t carry two Hellfire missiles and a surveillance camera. The drone’s death-delivering features are omitted from Durant’s sculpture. Nevertheless, he hopes it will generate discussion.
“Untitled (drone)” is meant to animate questions “about the use of drones, surveillance, and targeted killings in places far and near,” said Durant in a statement “and whether as a society we agree with and want to continue these practices.”
Durant regards art as a place for exploring possibilities and alternatives.
In 2007, a similar desire to raise questions about remote killing motivated New York artist, Wafaa Bilal, now a professor at NYU’s Tisch Gallery, to lock himself in a cubicle where, for a month, and at any hour of the day, he could be remotely targeted by a paint-ball gun blast. Anyone on the internet who chose to could shoot at him.
He was shot at more than 60,000 times by people from 128 different countries. Bilal called the project “Domestic Tension.” In a resulting book, Shoot an Iraqi: Art Life and Resistance Under the Gun, Bilal and co-author Kary Lydersen chronicled the remarkable outcome of the “Domestic Tension” project.
Along with descriptions of constant paint-ball attacks against Bilal, they wrote of the internet participants who instead wrestled with the controls to keep Bilal from being shot. And they described the death of Bilal’s brother, Hajj, who was killed by a U.S. air to ground missile killed Hajj in 2004.
Grappling with the terrible vulnerability to sudden death felt by people all across Iraq, Bilal, who grew up in Iraq, with this exhibit chose to partly experience the pervasive fear of being suddenly, and without warning, attacked remotely. He made himself vulnerable to people who might wish him harm.
Three years later, in June of 2010, Bilal developed the “And Counting” art work in which a tattoo artist inked the names of Iraq’s major cities on Bilal’s back. The tattoo artist then used his needle to place “dots of ink, thousands and thousands of them — each representing a casualty of the Iraq war. The dots are tattooed near the city where the person died: red ink for the American soldiers, ultraviolet ink for the Iraqi civilians, invisible unless seen under black light.”
Bilal, Durant and other artists who help us think about U.S. colonial warfare against the people of Iraq and other nations should surely be thanked. It’s helpful to compare Bilal’s and Durant’s projects.
The pristine, unsullied drone may be an apt metaphor for twenty-first-century U.S. warfare which can be entirely remote. Before driving home to dinner with their own loved ones, soldiers on another side of the world can kill suspected militants miles from any battlefield. The people assassinated by drone attacks may themselves be driving along a road, possibly headed toward their family homes.
U.S. technicians analyze miles of surveillance footage from drone cameras, but such surveillance doesn’t disclose information about the people a drone operator targets.
In fact, as Andrew Cockburn wrote in the London Review of Books: “the laws of physics impose inherent restrictions of picture quality from distant drones that no amount of money can overcome. Unless pictured from low altitude and in clear weather, individuals appear as dots, cars as blurry blobs.”
On the other hand, Bilal’s exploration is deeply personal, connoting the anguish of victims. Bilal took great pains, including the pain of tattooing, to name the people whose dots appear on his back, people who had been killed.
Contemplating “Untitled (drone),” it’s unsettling to recall that no one in the U.S. can name the thirty Afghan laborers killed by a U.S. drone in 2019. A U.S. drone operator fired a missile into an encampment of migrant workers resting after a day of harvesting pine nuts in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. An additional 40 people were injured. To U.S. drone pilots, such victims may appear only as dots.
In many war zones, incredibly brave human rights documentarians risk their lives to record the testimonies of people suffering war-related human rights violations, including drone attacks striking civilians. Mwatana for Human Rights, based in Yemen, researches human rights abuses committed by all sides to the war in Yemen. In their report, Death Falling from the Sky, Civilian Harm from the United States’ Use of Lethal Force in Yemen, they examine 12 U.S. aerial attacks in Yemen, 10 of them U.S. drone strikes, between 2017 and 2019.
They report at least 38 Yemeni civilians—nineteen men, thirteen children, and six women—were killed and seven others were injured in the attacks.
From the report, we learn of important roles the slain victims played as family and community members. We read of families bereft of income after the killing of wage earners, including beekeepers, fishers, laborers and drivers. Students described one of the men killed as a beloved teacher. Also among the dead were university students and housewives. Loved ones who mourn the deaths of those killed still fear hearing the hum of a drone.
Now it’s clear that the Houthis in Yemen have been able to use 3-D models to create their own drones which they have fired across a border, hitting targets in Saudi Arabia. This kind of proliferation has been entirely predictable.
The U.S. recently announced plans to sell the United Arab Emirates fifty F-35 fighter jets, eighteen Reaper drones, and various missiles, bombs and munitions. The UAE has used its weapons against its own people and has run ghastly clandestine prisons in Yemen where people are tortured and broken as human beings, a fate awaiting any Yemeni critic of their power.
The installation of a drone overlooking people in Manhattan can bring them into the larger discussion.
Outside of many military bases safely within the U.S. – from which drones are piloted to deal death over Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and other lands, activists have repeatedly staged artistic events. In 2011, at Hancock Field in Syracuse, thirty-eight activists were arrested for a “die-in” during which they simply lay down, at the gate, covering themselves with bloodied sheets.
The title of Sam Durant’s sculpture – “Untitled (drone)” – means that in a sense it is officially nameless, like so many of the victims of the U.S. Predator drones it is designed to resemble.
People in many parts of the world can’t speak up. Comparatively, we don’t face torture or death for protesting. We can tell the stories of the people being killed now by our drones, or watching the skies in terror of them.
We should tell those stories, those realities, to our elected representatives, to faith-based communities, to academics, to media and to our family and friends. And if you know anyone in New York City, please tell them to be on the lookout for a Predator drone in lower Manhattan. This pretend drone could help us grapple with reality and accelerate an international push to ban killer drones.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy.email@example.com) is a peace activist and author working to end U.S. military and economic wars. At times, her activism has led her to war zones and prisons.
This week, Toward Freedom’s Board of Directors bids farewell to guest editor Charlotte Dennett, welcomes Toward Freedom’s new editor, Julie Varughese, and extends a heartfelt thanks to Sam Mayfield who stepped down as President of Toward Freedom’s Board of Directors in December, 2020.
Charlotte Dennett stepped in as Toward Freedom’s guest editor last October. Her decades-long experience as a scholar, author and activist allowed Charlotte to seamlessly step into the position serving Toward Freedom’s mission, “to publish international reporting and incisive analysis that exposes government and corporate abuses of power, while supporting movements for universal peace, justice, freedom, the environment, and human rights.”
Charlotte contributed not only her editorial and writing skills, but also her great depth of geopolitical knowledge, as well as her enthusiasm for working with other writers. She went above and beyond the call of duty to mentor new writers, guiding them through the editing process, which resulted in the publication of many articles about places and issues not covered by any other English-language media. You can read Charlotte’s reflections about her time as guest editor here. Thank you, Charlotte!
Earlier this month, Julie Varughese came on board as Toward Freedom’s new editor. Julie comes to us having worked as a newspaper reporter, video producer and communications professional in a variety of settings. She has been working with the Black Alliance for Peace since its inception, supporting their impressive growth over the past four years. Julie’s strong writing, editing, video, graphics and social media skills will be a boon to Toward Freedom as we expand and grow to serve a more diverse audience and cover different parts of the world. This past week, Julie edited and published stories on Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Palestine, and drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Please drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or suggestions. Welcome, Julie!
Sam Mayfield led the organization during a period of transition in our operations, finances, and governance, with a clear vision and commitment to high-quality reporting and analysis of global events and grassroots movements from an anti-imperialist perspective. Her principled leadership, strong work ethic, and experience as a reporter and filmmaker were invaluable as we navigated multiple challenges over the past several years. Thank you, Sam!
Check out towardfreedom.org for all the latest, and expect to see increased presence of Toward Freedom stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the coming weeks.
Thanks to you Toward Freedom readers for your continued support!
On behalf of the Toward Freedom Board of Directors,