We work across the Middle East, with programme work spanning Egypt, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Iraq and Lebanon, and we are responding to the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
We began working in the Middle East in the 1950s, supporting the Middle East Council of Churches’ assistance to Palestinian refugees.
Our Iraq programme was set up in the early 1990s, initially in response to the impact of the attacks against the Kurdish population in the north and the crisis emerging after the Gulf War. In 2013, our Syria emergency response programme was expanded to include work inside Syria through an ACT sister agency.
Discrimination and exclusion take many forms in the Middle East. Gender discrimination is widespread, and national and ethnic discrimination are prevalent, with Palestinians and Kurds both denied statehood and the right to self-determination. Refugees and migrants are particularly vulnerable, given their exclusion from protection and many official social provisions.
In a region where unequal political, social and economic dynamics allow the exploitation of resources to maintain power and wealth among a few, unaccountable and unjust structures further reinforce their control and the exclusion of the poorest. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is a clear example. Many governments are seen to lack legitimacy, giving little attention to accountable approaches, and corruption levels are high.
Inequality in wealth has increased significantly, with land and assets in the hands of a few, and there is a growing sense of exclusion among other groups. Food security has deteriorated. Greater access to education has not meant more jobs for youth – in Egypt, more than three quarters of the unemployed are under 30.
The economies where we work are fragile and highly sensitive to economic and political shocks. The occupied Palestinian territory, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon are all heavily impacted by political turmoil and conflict. As a result, many governments in the region have faced severe budget crises. Small-scale producers are struggling to compete in markets where costs of inputs are rising but the dwindling purchasing power in domestic and export markets is suppressing prices.
The Middle East is going through a period of rapid political change and turmoil. Uprisings have led to the fall or destabilisation of authoritarian regimes. The consequences have been widespread, but take very different forms across the region. The uprisings brought increased awareness of rights, new opportunities for political engagement for citizens and potential openings for marginalised groups to demand their rights. But at the same time, the potential for increasingly conservative social and religious attitudes and structures within both community and political spheres has been highlighted. In Syria, the hard line response has led to a drawn out conflict with outpourings of refugees into Lebanon, Iraq and the potential destabilisation of the region.
Increased uncertainty around decision-making has prevented national governments from setting policy frameworks. In the occupied Palestinian territory, although political changes emerged from conflict between political groups rather than popular uprisings, the election into power of Hamas in Gaza in 2006 has led to dual authorities operating in the West Bank and Gaza.
We work with local partners bringing emergency relief and long-term development to the poorest. For example:
- The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees supports Palestinian farmers to make agriculture work despite the restrictions of the occupation.
- The Women’s Affairs Centre in Gaza, and the YWCA in the West Bank work for women’s social, political and economic empowerment.
- The Culture and Free Thought Association in Gaza and the YMCA in the West Bank both provide counselling and support to children growing up in conflict.
We also support human rights and peace organisations to push for accountability and justice. For example:
- Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and Palestinian group Al Haq focus on abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian territory – whether carried out by Israelis or Palestinians.
- The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) sends volunteers to the West Bank and Israel to monitor checkpoints and trouble spots.
There are several critical areas where we have the potential to achieve significant and positive changes to the lives of people in poverty in the Middle East.
Firstly, the lack of fully democratic processes and the poor’s exclusion from decision making: our work focuses on empowering poor people, supporting them to have a stronger and more coherent voice and expanding the spaces in which they can be heard. It also focuses on changing the institutions – governments, organisations, attitudes, processes and ways of working – that discriminate and perpetuate inequality and poverty.
Secondly, people living in poverty face deeply entrenched systematic exclusion. Our work targets the most marginalised in specific contexts.
Thirdly, conflict and increasing instability makes the Middle East particularly vulnerable to violence. We have a proven track record in protection and accountability work, as well as emerging work on conflict transformation and building peaceful alternatives. While the main focus of this work is in Israel and the oPt, it is also being developed in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.
At the heart of our regional programme are three key themes:
- Economic and social rights – many of the poorest people in the Middle East work in the informal sector, so tackling their exploitation and supporting structures through which they can represent their interests is key to addressing the root causes of poverty.
- Building resilient livelihoods, with a particular focus on conflict and post-conflict contexts – our rights-based focus enables us to place power and voice at the centre of a transformative approach that confronts the root causes of vulnerability.
- A focus on rights for all and working towards a viable solution that will bring peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
Where we work
The map below shows the reach of our programme in the Middle East.