South Africa and Yemen Stand up for Gaza

Yemen’s Bond with Palestine Goes Back to the 1940s

By Jehan Hakim

May/Jun 2024
South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Director-General Zane Dangor, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor and South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela listen as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Muslims should experience life and endure hardships together as a unified people, rather than being complacent in the face of injustice. The Prophet (salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) emphasized unity, comparing the believers to a single body in which suffering is shared collectively. Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir reported the the Prophet said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6011, Sahih Muslim 2586)

Amidst this collective pain, affluent nations remain conspicuously silent, with some actively contributing to the ongoing violence. Conversely, only a handful of nations have exhibited the courage to align themselves with Palestine. 

South Africa Acts

Having grappled with apartheid and foreign occupation, on Dec. 29, 2023, South Africa took the unprecedented step of filing a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in an attempt to hold it legally accountable for its policies and actions in occupied Gaza. By accusing Israel of genocide and drawing poignant parallels with its own history, South Africa is underscoring its commitment to justice, human rights and adherence to international law.

Born in response to the atrocities of World War II, UN resolution 96 (I) seeks to define and prevent genocide. On Dec. 11, 1946, it declared genocide “a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world,” in times of both war and peace. But despite its adoption in 1951, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide convention), has only officially recognized and prosecuted only three instances of genocide (Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia [and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre], and Cambodia under the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime).

Israel vehemently denies committing genocide in Gaza; however, the ICJ recently ruled that it has the jurisdiction to hear South Africa’s case against Israel for alleged breaches of the convention. This case is ongoing and will likely not halt Israel’s current genocide of Palestinians.

While various countries and institutions have taken measures to oppose Israel’s actions, such as severing diplomatic ties and implementing divestment strategies targeting pro-Israeli entities like McDonald’s, Sabra, and Chevron, the international response has notably lacked military intervention — aside from Yemen. 

Yemen Acts

Since 2015, Yemen has been subjected to its own harrowing genocide, marked by relentless bombings and starvation inflicted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with the support and backing of Western nations. This prolonged conflict has plunged the country into the depths of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis (Fatma Tanis,, June 17, 2023), spanning over seven years and wreaking havoc upon the lives of millions. Despite the gravity of the situation, the international community’s response has largely fallen short in terms of providing meaningful assistance and intervention to alleviate the Yemenis’ suffering.

In November 2023, Ansar Allah took control of an Israeli-owned ship, showcasing a resolute opposition to the latter’s genocidal actions. Subsequently, Yemen has persistently prevented vessels from entering its waters, resorting to missile launches when necessary, and strategically leveraging the Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

This significant maritime passage, sought after by Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Israel, manages the transit of more than 5 million barrels of oil each day and acts as the gateway to the Red Sea. Yemen’s unwavering protection of this crucial trade route underscores the essence of genuine alliance and solidarity.

During my childhood trips to Yemen, I vividly recall a pervasive sense of solidarity and connection to Palestine. It has been ingrained in me that our freedom is intricately linked to the liberation of Palestine; we are not free until they too are free. This shared sentiment resonates deeply within Arab and Muslim-led nations.

Sadly, we find ourselves in an era dominated by fear, silence and imperial bullying.

Yemen’s actions demonstrate a unique commitment to solidarity with the Palestinians, dating back to 1947, when it opposed Palestine’s partition upon joining the U.N. The Yemenis’ enduring concern for the Palestinians stems from Israel’s establishment as a settler colony in a land rooted in centuries of Arab identity and intertwined with Arab and Islamic history. Yemenis, across diverse backgrounds and affiliations, passionately advocate for a Palestine free from Israel’s systemic annexation, apartheid and erasure. 

The global scenario unfolds as a televised genocide, reminiscent of the second Nakba, which prompted Yemen’s actions.

The U.S. has criticized the actions of Ansar Allah and has taken actions to punish Yemen. Toward the close of 2023, the UN’s World Food Program halted aid to Northern Yemen, home to over 80% of Yemen’s population. Adding to the challenges, on the day that South Africa brought Israel to the ICJ, the State Department labeled Ansar Allah a “global terrorist group.”

Humanitarian agencies express concern that this designation could have a “chilling effect” on commercial entities, including shippers and banks, vital for their provision of essential sustenance. Instead of deescalating, ending arm sales to Israel and calling for a permanent ceasefire, the U.S. is using food as a weapon against the people of Yemen. 

Washington and London React

As if starvation weren’t enough, the U.S. and the U.K. initiated bombing campaigns on Yemen. Biden and Sunak are escalating a conflict in a country already struggling with a man-made famine resulting from a severe blockade, and which is only beginning to recover from a brutal war that led to the loss of nearly half a million lives.

Despite recognizing this campaign’s ineffectiveness, Biden insists on its continuation. He has openly declared a robust pro-Zionist position, affirming “I am a Zionist” ( and asserting that, “were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region” ( His long- standing affiliation with Israel has significantly influenced his approach to war policy. Since 2001, Washington’s prevailing strategy for handling Middle Eastern affairs seems to be centered around “counterterrorism” and militarizing its foreign policies. 

Following the U.S. and U.K. airstrikes on their country, the Yemeni people took to the streets, defiantly declaring, “We don’t care, we don’t care, even if it’s a world war.” 

Yemenis in the diaspora have voiced apprehensions regarding the actions of Ansar Allah, expressing discontent over the group’s global media presence, which they believe grants them undue legitimacy.

While Yemenis from various classes, sects and genders are united in their pro-Palestine stance, it’s crucial to note that support for Palestine extends beyond Ansar Allah and resonates across the broader Yemeni population.

If we believe God’s words to be true, then fighting back in times of aggression is in line with what Allah has said, “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory” (23:39). 

The Palestinians have been persecuted, evicted from their homes without right and their churches and mosques have been demolished. It’s time to defend the persecuted, and Yemenis should be commended for standing their ground and doing right by Palestine. Other countries should step up and follow Yemen’s lead. 

“Our Lord, forgive us our sins and anything We may have done that transgressed our duty: Establish our feet firmly, and help us against those that reject Faith” (3:147).

Jehan Hakim, a Yemeni American mother of four, community organizer and culturally responsive educator resides in Houston. For more information, contact

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