SANA’A, YEMEN — A young groom in his early twenties, Zaid Abdullah al-Shareif, took to the stage adorned in traditional Yemeni wedding attire. He wasn’t just announcing his marriage though. Zaid, holding a replica of the famous sword of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, a historical figure revered for his character and battlefield prowess, was addressing an audience at a massive protest known locally as the Sarkhah, or the Scream. There he made a wedding-day pledge to help liberate Jerusalem and the people of Palestine.
The Sarkhah is an annual tradition, a celebration of the independence of the Ansar Allah (better known as Houthi) rebellion. During the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, the Houthi movement’s founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, is said to have shouted “God is Great! Death to America! Death to Israel!” in a gathering in the mountainous area of Maran in northern Yemen. Far from the genocidal call to arms it is often dismissed as, it was a cry for territorial autonomy and relief from the destructive and deadly nature of the U.S.-led “war on terror,” which has taken so many civilian lives in Yemen and beyond. Since that occasion, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have celebrated the occasion and the Houthis’ de facto role as a stalwart against highly unpopular American and Israeli policies in the region.
In the city of Sadaa, which lies within a stone’s throw of the Saudi border, protest organizers addressed crowds of tens of thousands, warning of Saudi, Israeli and U.S. designs on Yemen’s islands and coasts. Demonstrations took place across Yemen’s provinces and major cities condemning America’s policies in the region, rejecting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and encouraging an awakening and unification of the local people.
Disappointment, suffering and a louder scream
In fact, this year’s Sarkhah gained unprecedented momentum, and attracted a slew of young new recruits like Zaid, thanks to Israel’s recent onslaught in Gaza and to U.S. policies in the region, namely President Joe Biden’s broken promise to end the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen. “At a time when we hoped Biden would alleviate our suffering, we are shocked today that he is instead doubling it!!” Zaid shouted to a vociferous crowd of protesters. “Yes, death to America!” followed. On Thursday, the United States added new sanctions to 12 local currency exchanges, in a move that could have severe humanitarian implications according to Yemeni economists.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said “ the United States will continue to apply pressure to the Houthis, including through targeted sanctions.” The move came after an official Omani delegation left Sana’a, where the Ansar Allah administration is based. The delegation arrived at Sana’a on June 5, and met with Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, political council chief Mahdi al-Mashat, and Ansar Allah officials. According to Ansar Allah officials, who spoke to MintPress on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks, Omani negotiators made significant headway in paving the path to a political solution to the war. Now, officials fear that the Biden administration’s recent actions may hinder peace efforts.
Reacting to the sanctions, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said on Twitter:
The United States makes war a priority for Yemen, while pretending to seek peace!” …The imposition of sanctions under the pretense of imposing peace is itself an obstacle to peace. It is without any feasibility.” He called the sanctions a “crime targeting the private sector after transferring the central bank to Aden, stopping oil exports, hitting factories, starving Yemenis with blockade, and stopping salaries. It is a systematic plan to destroy the economy.”
The Jerusalem Formula
American policies in the region have indeed been counterintuitive in light of ostensible U.S. goals and in fact have prompted a sharp turn towards the so-called resistance, comprised of Iran, Hezbollah and certain elements in Iraq and Syria that are opposed to U.S. policies in the Middle East. It is in that context that Ansar Allah recently announced their intent to join an initiative that would see the group challenge the military might of the United States and Saudi-led Coalition in the Red Sea and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait with a sophisticated arsenal of ballistic missiles, drones, mines, and high-speed gunboats as part of the so-called Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Formula.
The formula, which was spearheaded by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and has already been embraced by Palestine’s armed resistance, would also meet any hostile military action by Israel with a collective response by all of the aforementioned parties, risking an all-out war in the region, the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
According to Ansar Allah military sources, any potential Yemeni military operation that takes place as part of the initiative would include drone and missile attacks on Israeli targets reminiscent of those that the group has used so effectively against Saudi Arabia.
Digging deep into shallow pockets
Zaid saved for his wedding day for five years, putting away what meager funds he could to treat his hundreds of guests to a meal, drink and live music, as is tradition in Yemen. Instead, he pledged that money to the Palestinian cause, telling the crowd of protesters, “I stand ready to sacrifice more than just this donation.” Although Jerusalem stands some 2,500 km away from Sana’a, the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation continues to endure in the collective hearts of Yemenis.
Despite over six years of the Saudi-led Coalition’s U.S.-backed war, a war that has left the vast majority of Yemen’s population destitute, most Yemenis do not hesitate to donate to Palestinians struggling under Israeli occupation. In the north, in areas outside of the Saudi Coalition’s control, protests against Israel’s recent onslaught on Gaza attracted hundreds of thousands of people and were easily the largest in the Middle East.
In fact, over $4 million has been donated to Palestinian causes by Yemenis of all political persuasions during the recent attacks on Gaza. In Sana’a alone, more than $2 million was handed over to the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, in the wake of the recent war.
Feature photo | Houthi supporters hold the Palestinian flag as they chant slogans during a protest against Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, in Sanaa, Yemen, May 17, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.