By: Hassan Al-Haifi
I went to the Old City of Sana’a on September 24, just four days after the barbaric and absolutely criminal Saudi air raid on the UNESCO declared World Heritage City (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/385)
More than any other place in this world I dwelt in or visited in my life, Sana’a is perhaps the location that most infuenced my life.
I was born in this fabulous city, when there was still no “new” to distinguish any of its parts with any of its surroundings. In fact, Sana’a had telephones. and a modest electricity network, which were introduced in the early part of my life, before the September 26, 1962 Revoution. Thus, the new was beginning to encroach and blend in (but still harmlessly) with the unique architecture of this amazingly well designed city of urban – albeit medieval – planning. I knew Sana’a then when the charming city was still pretty much a self sustaining metropolis, with all its sustenance needs met from internal domestic sources and the farms that surrounded the city’s historic wall: water was provided by surface wells in the houses or from various streams eminating from springs located around the city’s then picturesque suburban villages, or from the wells of the city’s numerous gardens, attached to each of the fabulous mosques dotting its urban expanse. These gardens (“miqshamas”, as they were called – roughly meaning garden vegetable farms) were conveniently irrigated from the waste water of their respective mosques, as well as the wastewater of the surrounding neatly arranged houses around these gardens (Bear in mind that human solid waste did not enter the wastewater drainage system, Such waste had a separrate disposal system that effectively allowed for such waste to be used as fuel to heat the public “Turkish” baths). The wells of the mosques also provided supplemental irrigation for the miqshamas. Poisonous detergents, soaps, shampoos and other consumables were not yet a source of pollution in these wastewaters. These gardens supplied almost all the garden vegetable needs of the city’s population of about 40,000 in the first decade of my life. Livestock meat and dairy needs of the city were provided by livestock and poultry maintained by Sana’ani residents or the families that had sharecropping leases to these miqshamas, or “endowment” gardens. I remember we had a cow and chicken in our house, which took care of our dairy needs. I also recall how as children we enjoyed going to any of the nearby gardens to our house to fetch anything from tomatoes to radishes to lettuce to potatoes. Some of these gardens grew berries, almonds, walnuts, pears, prickly cactus fruit and other delicacies. There were five such gardens within a five to ten minutes walk from our house situated in the Al-Alamy “neighborhood” at the center of the Old City (actually a long slightly wavy street with broken rows of attached houses) between Al-Fulaihy “neighborhood” and Wadi Al-Sayilah – a water runoff bed that harvested all the rainwater floodwater that flowed in the city after gathering from the roofs of Sana’a’s seemingly packed together houses and winding streets.
Al-Fulaihy Mosque is no more than 300 meters East of our house and even in my youth, this mosque was an important scholastic institution of learning of Islamic jurispruence and law, Arabic literature and history and other social studies and produced many of Yemen’s leaders, prominent jurists and literary personalities during the Twentieth Century.
I walked from Al-Sayilah eastward to our house and could not avoid sighing pitifully as I saw all the houses on my left and right showing the obvious damage from the horrific air raid that hit Al-Fulaihy Garden and the house of its tenant farmer, Hifdh-Allah Al-Ainy, killing all the 11 members of his immediate family just 4 days earlier. Almost all the windows and stained glass or alabaster glass arches of the houses I was passing through were broken, some with their holding frames pushed in or out of the walls that contained them. Some of these houses were two to four centuries old, but their walls were either cracked or pushed to lean in or out of their once erect standing. Some houses had been wrecked and rendered unsafe for habitation. When I reached the house I was born in and in which I lived my early years before going to the United States and in intermittent periods of my life when I returned to Yemen, I was saddened by all the broken windows and the stainedglass arches over them. For me each window had its own story in my life and to see it a mere hole now was tragic.
Luckily, aside from repairs to all the windows and stained. glass arches – nevertheless at a significant cost – at this stage, structural damage to our house could not yet be ascertained. The glass and dirt debris of our house filled two empty 50 kg. flour sacks.
I walked East towards Al-Fulaihy and as I got closer to the site of the destructive missile explosions, at the Miqshamat Al-Fulaihy, the impact of the explosions got more noticeable and more structurally damaging or destructive.
As I walked, I could not help asking to. myself continuously the question, “Why? Why would anyone do such horrible destruction?” I knew every nook and cranny within a 2 km. radius of the Al-Fulaihy Mosque and there is simply not even one halfway decent reason to suggest that any military objective or logic warrants thsenseless destruction of such treasure of historical culture and unique architectural splendor. The considerable substantive material damage is awesome for the current residents of the Old City of Sana’a, who and in many cases would require expensive careful repair work, most residents could hardly afford in these very difficult economic circumstances for the majority of Yemenis and not just the people of Sana’a.
When I reached the Al-Ainy family house, the human tragedy unfolded before my eyes and was almost unbearable to watch.
The four story house had turned to a heap of stones, dirt, cinderblocks, wood, torn funiture, ripped clothing, scattered utensils, which had no evidence of architectural form or standing.
When a relative of the deceased occupants of the house appeared the trauma of the loss was quite evident. As the lady was wailing and screaming beyond control: “My uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers! What did they do to you, Salman? Curses to you and your stooge, Abdu Rabbo Hadi and all the traitorous croanies!” Another women tried to control her shouting. It was melodramatic beyond belief.
I continued walking through the mixture of debris and household belongings. They were now indistinguishable in terms of ownership and purpose. Lingerie was mixed with prayer clothes. A Holy Quran sat stubbornly on a shelf of the only standing remains of what used to be a green painted room wall.
It was unbelievable to picture that 11 people once lived and walked in this mumble jumble of debris, furnishings and personal belongings.
As I walked through the ups and downs of the mound of debris, I looked at all the houses around the garden, which Al-Ainy farmed almost all his life. Almost all the houses had lost their windows and stained glass arches. Some houses were damaged beyond repair.
Then another female wailing relative showed up screaming and shouting: “What could my uncle do to you Salman? What could a seller of lettuce and radishes do to you, Salman? How could you call yourself the Protector of the Holy Sites, when the souls of Moslems are targets of your planes, while the owners of such souls are in deep slumber?” She went down and kept mumbling prayers asking revenge from the Al-Mighty for the big loss of so many unarmed petty folk, earning. their honest living by the sweat of their toil.
Other females and children relatives after failing to quiet the screaming lady then joined in the wailing.
The unforgivable attack on the Old City of Sana’a clearly showed a total disregard for cultural heritage and the historical legacy of generations of Yemenis who created and built this marvelous relic of man’s abiity to respect nature and the enviroment. Why did the Saudis do it? Looking at the narrow streets of the city and the fragile structural framework of its buildings, even the most astute and gungho war maniac would regard an attack like the one that hit the Al-Ainy home stupid, hateful and incompatible with sound military logic.
But over the past six months and the continuous massacres of Yemeni civiians, the last being the coldblooded murder of 135 people attending a wedding in Mocha, of whom most were women and chidren, military logic seems to be the last thing in the minds of Saudi military strategists.
These attacks seem to show a clear case of man’s inhumanity to man – a clear case of unadulterated unforgivable arrogance, uncultred chauvinism and contemptuous barbarity.