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British imperialism’s shameful role in Gaza and Yemen

Britain has gone from supplying the weapons and training to others to dropping the bombs itself — yet it is Yemen that is in fact acting to prevent further bloodshed, in line with international law explains CLAUDIA WEBBE MP

THE current bombing of Yemen is anything but new — the bombing of Yemen, colonised by Britain until 1967, has occurred in at least 15 of the last 100 years.

This number does not include the period from 2014, when the ground crews of Britain’s RAF were embedded with the Saudi air force, as it bombed hospitals, funerals and food stores as part of the Saudi-led, US-backed, war on Yemen, compounding the violence and famine inflicted on innocent civilians.

According to the UN, the direct violence of bombs — many of them made and supplied by Britain — and bullets killed more than 150,000 people, while almost a quarter of a million were killed by hunger and disease, 11,000 or more of them children.

During this period, since 2014, according to Action on Armed Violence, Britain has licensed around £7.5 billion of arms sales and weapons to Saudi Arabia, a marked acceleration.

There was a lull in the bombing in 2022, after the Houthis struck Saudi oil facilities, prompting a renewal of negotiations. Then, only last month, UN envoy Hans Grundberg announced agreement among the parties on a ceasefire and a commitment to a UN-led peace process — at last, a chance of real respite for the suffering millions of Yemen.

Yet now, tragically, Yemen is being bombed again — and this time, Britain is doing much more than support and enablement, participating with the US in repeated bombing raids on Houthi facilities that have shattered hopes of peace and inflamed the danger of conflict consuming the whole Middle East region.

And it is doing this because the Houthis have taken action, as they argue, they are obliged to do under international law, to try to pressure Israel into ending its killing of civilians in Gaza, by intercepting shipping bound for or owned by Israel.

Britain claims its actions in bombing Yemen are to protect trade and have nothing to do with Israel, a claim that Campaign Against the Arms Trade has described as “farcical.”

Given their own history, the Yemenis know what the people of Gaza are going through. They know what it’s like to face constant, merciless bombardment and they know what it’s like to suffer hunger and disease from blockades and the intentional destruction of food supplies and hospitals. They know what it’s like to face the worst humanitarian disaster.

While Britain, the US and other Western powers sat on their hands — or worse, provided political cover, logistical support, money and weapons to Israel — arguably, Yemen, took its legal and moral obligations, to intervene to prevent genocide, seriously.

And so, our government and that of the US are bombing them again, valuing commerce and convenience above the lives of innocent civilians.

But as so often happens, when imperial powers barge and blunder in, they make things worse, not better. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), the bombings have stoked outrage in neighbouring nations and have fuelled the threat of a widened conflict, while doing nothing to protect shipping and trade.

Shipping companies are still shunning the area as danger and insurance costs soar — and now the Houthis have fired at least one missile at a US naval vessel and with another have hit at least one commercial vessel, believing that British and US warships are legitimate targets after the bombing attacks in Yemen.

The precipitate nature of Britain’s action was further exposed last Friday when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced its findings in relation to South Africa’s genocide case against Israel.

The International Court for Justice noted the scale of Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, including the destruction of homes and the forced transfer of the population — in itself a war crime — and noted, too, statements made by among others, Israel’s president and defence minister, making the case of genocide plausible.

It also found that these acts, along with Israel’s blockade of food, water, fuel and medical supplies merited a full genocide trial — and ordered Israel to not only stop killing Palestinians in Gaza, but to stop anyone else killing them, too.

As Amnesty International noted after the court’s announcement, these findings and orders oblige every signatory to the Genocide Convention to take every available measure to intervene to prevent genocidal acts, including Britain, the US — and Yemen.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, in the two days after the ICJ’s order to Israel to prevent the killing of Palestinians, at least 373 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombings and air strikes — including 345 civilians — and wounded 643 others. Yet Britain and the US continue to ignore their obligations and provide cover and assistance, and are bombing Yemen, in direct violation of international law.

Not only that, but they have also launched a financial assault on the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides desperately needed humanitarian relief to over two million people of Gaza who are facing constant bombing and a ground invasion alongside the famine and disease that Israel’s continuing blockade and destruction of hospitals and homes have imposed.

After Israel alleged that a handful of UNRWA’s 13,000 Gazan employees participated in the October 7 raid, Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden immediately ended British and US funding for UNRWA. The US is, or was, UNRWA’s biggest single funder, but Israel has long attacked the UN organisation for keeping Palestinian refugees’ hopes alive of returning to the homes from which they were forced out.

The withdrawal of US and British funds will be a heavy blow to UNRWA’s ability to help desperate Palestinians in Gaza and is regarded by many analysts as a co-ordinated attempt to accelerate the attrition of famine and disease in defiance of the ICJ’s rulings.

Britain’s history of actions in and against Yemen has been a shameful one, surpassed only perhaps by its betrayal of the Palestinians from Balfour onwards and now in Sunak’s contemptuous dismissal of the ICJ’s findings and his refusal to make even a gesture toward implementing its binding orders.

Now Britain is weaving both those shameful histories together, written in bombs, bullets and betrayal, attacking Yemen for its attempts to help the people of Gaza, attacking the people of Gaza by defunding UNRWA and providing materials, logistical support and political cover for Israel’s ongoing mass slaughter.

That long and shameful record needs to change, starting now. It’s very clear that the British government, whether the current Sunak regime or a future Labour government under Keir Starmer, will not change course unless they are forced to by relentless political pressure and increased public protest and awareness.

That will require an ongoing international campaign and movement and continued protests against Israel’s “genocidal acts” in Gaza and challenging the complicity of Western governments, including Britain that allows Israel to act with impunity.

Also, to embrace calls for Britain to stop attacking Yemen, obey its own unequivocal obligations under international law and take its own actions, in line with the ICJ ruling to protect the people of Palestine.

Our international voices in solidarity will need to be louder. We owe it to the tens of thousands of mostly women and children killed in Gaza and the almost two million Palestinians driven to the brink of starvation. Our rally call must be clear stop bombing Yemen; stop bombing Gaza.

Claudia Webbe is MP for Leicester East. Follow her on X @ClaudiaWebbe.

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