By J. Daryl Byler, MCC Representative for Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine
Cindy and I have served as MCC representatives for programs in Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine/Israel since 2007. Every year we spend four to six weeks visiting the MCC advocacy offices (Ottawa, the United Nations and Washington, D.C.) and speaking in Mennonite schools and churches in Canada and the United States.
Is speaking in North America an effective use of our time when there is so much work to do in the Middle East? Aren’t there school kits to deliver, and water and peacebuilding projects to attend to?
For MCC partners in the Middle East, education and advocacy in Canada and the United States is a high priority.
They rightly believe that the Western media does not offer a full and accurate picture of the realities on the ground in the Middle East. Too often, for example, the media highlights suicide bombings or other individual acts of violence without mentioning structural violence like military occupation, house demolitions, land confiscation and sweeping economic sanctions.
Furthermore, MCC partners remind us that the policies of the Canadian and U.S. governments have consequences for the lives of ordinary Middle Eastern folks. They want policymakers to be aware of the implications of their decisions.
In early 2010 we traveled to Gaza with the leaders of MCC’s three advocacy offices. One of MCC’s partners there told us pointedly that his organization did not want MCC’s money for health care and job training projects if we are unwilling to do advocacy highlighting the economic blockade that suffocates life for many Palestinians in Gaza.
The chairperson of MCC’s Palestine advisory committee recently shared a similar sentiment. Samia Khoury, a Palestinian educator who has been a tireless voice for justice and peace, expressed great appreciation for MCC’s 63-year presence in the region. But she added a word of caution.
“I wish to emphasize how important (it is) that the prophetic courageous voice of MCC is heard (in North America),” Samia urged. “Otherwise MCC work in our region would be a cover up for the reality on the ground that can go on forever with no hope for liberation, and MCC will lose its credibility and purpose of being in the region.”
In our visits in Ottawa this spring, we had an opportunity to meet with Members of Parliament and other policymakers, articulating the concerns of MCC’s Middle Eastern partners and listening to the perspectives of Canadian officials.
Later, we spent several days interacting with MCC constituents across Alberta, again sharing the stories and perceptions of MCC partners in the Middle East.
This kind of public engagement augments MCC’s work on the ground. It also allows us to return to the Middle East and share information with MCC partners about the broad spectrum of views that North Americans have about the Middle East.
Credibility and truth-telling: this is why we yearly visit Ottawa, Washington, and churches across Canada and the U.S.
This article originally appeared on the Ottawa Office Notebook.