“My Country has been under bombardment and siege by US, UK, Saudi coalition for the last 3 years. People are dying from hunger. People are starving to death.
“Thank you for standing with us, it really means a lot for us. Your support will end this bloody war on us. Thank you so much.”
This message from Ahmad Algohbary was read outside the gates of RAF Valley on the dark, wet and windy evening of 7th November.
Ahmad is a freelance journalist in the Yemen, who is also the founder of the Yemen Hope and Relief Charity. I urge you to look at his Twitter account.
The vigil at RAF Valley was organised by a coalition of groups:
- Cymdeithas y Cymod (Fellowship of Reconciliation)
- Bangor and Ynys Mon Peace and Justice Group
- The North Wales Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
- Conwy County Peace Group
- CND Cymru
- Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society)
So why were so many people there?
Because we are disgusted, horrified and ashamed that pilots from Saudi Arabia are being trained on Welsh soil and using Welsh airspace, and that the RAF is being cynically used by the UK Government to support the massive sales of arms to the Saudi regime.
This is a regime which has been carrying out a horrendous war in Yemen, with thousands of innocent casualties.
And because we are incandescent with rage at the supine and unquestioning support given by the Welsh Government to the UK military machine and arms companies.
Ken Skates, our Economy and Transport Secretary, is scheduled to be a “keynote speaker” at the Arms Fair in Cardiff next March.
And throw in the proposed development of Llanbedr Airfield to enable arms companies such as BAE and Qinetiq to develop and test their destructive wares – incidentally supported by Plaid Cymru led Gwynedd Council, and part of the North Wales Growth Bid.
We are truly fed up to the back teeth with the abandonment of large tracts of Wales to the military – little has changed since the community at Epynt was cleared away to build a military training range.
And we are kept in the dark about so many of these issues. Were it not for Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards I doubt whether the involvement of RAF Valley in training the pilots from Saudi Arabia would have become known.
Surely it is time for us to be told which foreign armed forces are trained in Wales, and how exactly that is meant to help defend the country of Wales or the UK state?
Violence overseas enabled and supported by the UK Government is a prime reason for driving despairing people to carry out terrorist acts over here.
We are concerned about the increasingly strident intrusion of militarism into so many aspects of society.
And wrapping all of it up in a Union Jack-festooned fantasy of a long gone Empire and deference to Royalty – whose traditional career is in the Armed Forces, and are willing stooges in fostering trade in arms to Saudi.
It seems that questioning the validity of what the Armed Forces do is akin to treason.
We are saddened that the arms industry hijacks the idealism of people who wish to “serve their country” and led them into a nightmare where their humanity is diminished, where death and destruction awaits. These are usually young people recruited from our poorer towns.
And the reward for this idealism? To be thrown on the scrapheap of society, to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, to be over-represented in the statistics of the mentally ill, the prison population, the alcohol and drug addicts, the homeless.
All this, to bolster arms sales. All this, so that the politicians who send our people to kill and be killed can do so from a safe distance.
All this, so that we sanitise war – because it’s far away, and it’s mainly people who look different to us who are demonised as the “enemy”.
This is why the protest at RAF Valley is so significant. It asks us what our human values are. It asks us why we don’t raise a voice to stop the suffering in Yemen.
It challenges the abdication of responsibility of Public Service Secretary Alun Davies, who said in the Senedd: “It is not, however, a matter for this place to debate or discuss the operational decisions taken by the Royal Air Force in the deployment of UK resources.
“That is quite properly a matter for the Ministry of Defence and it is quite properly a matter which is not devolved to this place.”
Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood sent a message to the vigil. She said: “The people of Yemen are not starving, they are being starved. The famine in Yemen is a direct result of the siege imposed on the country by the Saudi and US Governments.
“And this is not a war that is being fought out by distant powers unconnected to us. The famine would not be occurring without the arms sales, logistical support and pilot training that is happening here.”
But this is not a party political issue. It’s about what kind of Wales we want to live in. Do we want to live in a Wales in hock to the military-industrial complex? Or do we want to live in a Wales that elevates decent, basic human values above all else?
Do we reach out to the people of Yemen, or do we shrug our shoulders and look the other way?