Promote Peace, Address Human Needs in the Middle East, AFSC Program Director Urges at First Day Program

For decades, the U.S. has based its Middle East policy on military might, American Friends Service Committee Program Director Michael Merryman-Lotze said during a First Day program on March 19.

From Yemen to Syria to Iraq, the U.S. has tended to use military power or to support leaders who are willing to leverage their own, said Merryman-Lotze, the Palestine-Israel program director for AFSC.

This approach has only worsened underlying poverty, unemployment and tribal tensions that preceded military intervention, said Merryman-Lotze, who from 2000 through 2003 worked as a researcher with the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq in the West Bank, and from 2007 through 2010 worked in Save the Children UK’s Jerusalem office managing child rights and child protection programming. He has also managed community and local government development programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“We haven’t worked to meet or address the needs of people. We have been very reluctant to put our resources into a place where we can assist and try to help doing those things,” he said, observing that U.S. expenditures for bombs used in Yemen outpaced those that could have addressed issues like poverty and limited access to resources like water. “Over decades, we’ve relied on violence to address violence. That’s been our policy for decades, and it’s a policy that hasn’t succeeded.”

The devastating crisis in Syria has spilled over into countries like Lebanon, which absorbed one million refugees – equal to one fourth of its own population, he said.

The Trump administration is poised to increase the presence of ground troops in Syria, he said, noting that President Obama used drones and other military tools aggressively.

While the U.S. role has in many instances been negative, he added, it has not played a controlling role with the capacity to eclipse the native issues in the Middle East.

Merryman-Lotze said, however, that the Trump administration has signaled its support for policies with potential to adversely transform the dynamics in Israel and Palestine. Supporting Israeli settlements, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and endorsing an annexation of certain parts of the West Bank could render a two-state solution impossible, he said.

With the military spending slated to rise and expenditures for diplomacy expected to decline, Merryman-Lotze said, those committed to peace should be very vocal in protesting a budget that would increase reliance on force.

~ Submitted by Sarah Greenblatt

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