Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy & Huffington Post – 2015-07-07 20:35:59
The Bombing of Yemen and What I Learned in Iran
Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy
(May 20, 2015) — Two weeks ago, I boarded a plane to Tehran, intending to join a peace boat to protest the Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen, which has already killed over a thousand Yemenis, including at least one US citizen. As a US citizen and a peace advocate, I wanted to use the opportunity to draw attention to the terrible actions of a US ally — actions, which the US government is actively supporting. Our government could act to stop the violence right now, but it is not yet doing so.
For logistical reasons, I ultimately didn’t board the boat, which is now en-route to Yemen. But I was able to spend a week in Iran, where I met with Iranian journalists, government officials, and students and also got to experience the world-famous Iranian hospitality, the crazy drivers, and the wide-spread curiosity and courtesy shown towards Americans.
I’m a big believer in “Track II diplomacy” — people-to-people contacts. When Americans and Iranians meet, war is less likely. When Americans and Iranians get information about each other directly without being filtered by governments and mass media, war is less likely.
And if you haven’t already, tell President Obama to call for a ceasefire in Yemen: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/stop-violence-in-yemen
We are in the business of trying to make war less likely. Your support helps fund our work to secure an Iran deal and stop the violence in Yemen.
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Is Saudi Arabia Now the Israel of the Gulf?
Robert Naiman, Truthout / Op-Ed
TEHRAN, Iran (May 11, 2015) — I came to Iran this week to participate in a peace boat sailing from Iran to protest the Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw from the boat trip for logistical reasons; my frequent collaborator Tighe Barry of CODEPINK still plans to be on the boat, which as of this writing was expected to leave Monday morning local time.
So instead of writing about being on the boat, I figured I would write about how Saudi Arabia is apparently becoming the Israel of the Gulf countries: a habitual aggressor in its neighborhood, enabled in its aggression by the United States. Indeed, it could be argued that Saudi Arabia has become a more dangerous regional aggressor than Israel, because so far, at least, Saudi Arabia’s aggression in Yemen, like its aggression in Bahrain, has provoked a less vigorous international reaction, including in the United States, than Israel’s recent war in Gaza.
Like Israel’s recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s campaign is being widely judged a failure in a military sense, which means that, like Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, they have killed many human beings, including many civilians, for no clear military purpose:
Airstrikes on [former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah] Saleh’s residence and in the northern province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, also reflected a desire by the Saudi-led coalition to salvage a military victory by killing opposition leaders after a six-week bombing campaign that analysts say has failed to meet most of its original goals.
More than 1,400 people have been killed since March, when Saudi Arabia launched its aerial campaign against the Houthis, a Shiite movement that had taken control of Yemen’s capital and forced the government from power. The Houthis have weathered the onslaught and continued their advance.
According to Oxfam, the more than 1,400 people killed so far have included at least 400 civilians.
Like Israel in Gaza, Saudi Arabia pretended that warning civilians to flee an area that they intend to bomb absolves them from their obligation under international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties. Like Israel, their claim was rejected by the United Nations:
That rationalization for Friday and Saturday airstrikes was rejected by Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
“The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law,” Van Der Klaauw said in a statement.
The U.N. official said he was especially concerned about the airstrikes on Saada, “where scores of civilians were reportedly killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes after the coalition declared the entire governorate a military target.”
It is certainly a very welcome development that Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have finally agreed to a five-day cease-fire to allow desperately needed humanitarian relief supplies to be delivered to Yemen. Don’t you agree with Oxfam that the cease-fire should be permanent? If you agree, you can tell President Obama and Congress so here.
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Thirteen Things I Learned in Iran
Robert Naiman, Truthout | Op-Ed
ISTANBUL, Turkey (May 15, 2015) — I just experienced the blessing of visiting Iran for the first time. Here are some things I learned.
1. If you are visiting someone’s office and you appear very sleepy, you may be asked if you want to take a nap. If you say yes, a comfortable place to take a nap may be immediately prepared. I want to state categorically for the record that no country in which you can take a nap any time you want should ever be bombed by anyone.
2. Any American who wants a hero’s welcome in Iran right now should compare the Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen to the Israeli bombing and blockade of Gaza. An American sporting a “Saudi Arabia = Israel” button could get invited to any party in Iran right now.
3. There is a tower in the middle of Tehran from the top of which one can see the whole city. Wow! Which way is north? The mountain with snow on top.
4. If you hang out at the top of the tower, little Iranian schoolgirls may greet you in English and then run away tittering, as if they’ve just proved their bravery on a dare. What a delight!
5. Drivers in Tehran need never fear that another Tehran driver will “cut them off.” The reason for this is that the concept of “cutting someone off” apparently does not exist in Tehran driving culture. That which might be characterized as “cutting someone off” on an American street is apparently 100% normative Tehran driving behavior. However, unlike Cairo drivers, Tehran drivers do apparently believe in the existence of stoplights.
6. Tehran taxi GPS: Ask any available pedestrian for directions, including small children. Repeat as necessary.
7. Counter-intuitively, taking a taxi from Isfahan to Tehran can take almost twice as long as taking the bus. See number 6.
8. There is a Jewish community in Isfahan. Who knew? Maybe that’s why the locals say Isfahan nefse jahan, “Isfahan is half the world.” My French traveling companion and I visited a local synagogue. My companion thought it might be a profound souvenir to purchase a mezuzah produced in Isfahan. When queried about this idea, the woman who appeared to be the day-to-day boss of the synagogue asked – quite sensibly, I thought – “Don’t you have mezuzahs in France?”
9. If the imam at Isfahan’s Islamic Technical University finds out that you are Jewish, he may ostentatiously kiss you on both cheeks in front of the congregants. What a delight!
10. Students at Isfahan’s Islamic Technical University aren’t the least bit shy about aggressively questioning a speaker during a presentation. When the translator told me that I sounded to the students like John Kerry, I said: “Listen, I was for diplomacy with Iran before John Kerry was. I am not copying John Kerry; John Kerry is copying me.” When I said this, the students laughed without waiting for the translation into Farsi. Aha! I said triumphantly. So you do understand English!
11. A diligent and persistent American tourist can, in fact, find T-shirts in the bazaar that have both Farsi and English.
12. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Richard William Murphy walks the talk on engagement. He agreed to debate me on Press TV regarding the Camp David summit between the US and Persian Gulf Arab monarchies. When Ambassador Murphy complained that Gulf Arab monarchs still felt aggrieved that during the Iranian revolution Iranian leaders had called the Gulf Arab monarchs “blasphemous, incompetent and corrupt,” I noted that while on the charge of blasphemy, the US has no dog in that race, it is a commonplace observation in the US that the Gulf Arab monarchs are incompetent and corrupt, including among US government officials. When he complained that Iran was “destabilizing” the region, I asked him if it was an example of such “destabilization” when Iranian and Iraqi government officials joined together to complain that the Saudi assault on Yemen blatantly violated international humanitarian law.
13. Cappucino at Imam Khomeini International Airport: Just don’t do it. I’m afraid that they have not yet received the memo. Stick to tea, a local specialty, where the locals have the comparative advantage of hundreds of years of production experience. The Iranians responsible for enriching uranium have nothing on the Iranian tea producers.
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