“This is no time to be neutral on Middle East issues”

Brenton Stoddart

Remarks delivered by Brenton Stoddart at our 60th Anniversary celebration October 29.  Video: https://www.facebook.com/masspeaceaction/videos/10154802992355723/

In college, debating US foreign policy with my peers was “cool,” and pointing out the faults in that policy seemed a potential vocation. But rarely did I consider the people whom our decisions affect, or the inherent privilege in being American. I subscribed to the same west-centric ideology that dominates US politics and engenders US policy failures. After graduating, I was determined to go to the region to test my views. This spring, I spent 4 months studying in Jordan and a month in Israel and Palestine on an interfaith delegation.

In Jordan, I was confronted with the reality of the decisions I used to chat with fraternity friends about over a beer. From friends and neighbors I heard Palestinian stories of forced displacement at the founding of Israel, stories of sectarian violence, lost loved ones, food shortages, and military occupation. Stories of agony due to US foreign policy are commonplace in the Middle East, the results of attempted regime change, lavish military contracts, petrodollar agreements, and proxy conflicts stemming from America’s quest for oil and hegemony.

We in this room believe in a different quest, for international cooperation and drastic reductions of weapons and violence. Yet by paying federal taxes we share responsibility for 16 years of war in Afghanistan, for the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq, the murder of Yemeni civilians, the steady growth of West Bank settlements, for protecting our ally, Saudi Arabia, as it spreads a violent interpretation of Islam, and for the escalating political tensions with Iran.

The Iranian nuclear deal is an example of skilled diplomacy making the world safer.  It must not be cancelled.

The Trump administration approved a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, spublic flogging, torture, execution.  If the US claims to stand for equity, it must end military support for this human-rights-violating country.

Israeli settlements continue to encroach on the West Bank, including last week’s announcement of 31 new units in Hebron. The US must hold Israel accountable for making the two-state solution impossible and its violations of international law.

A quote from Dante’s Inferno fits our current political climate: “There is a special place in hell for those who remain neutral in a time of moral crisis.” We need to remind those who remain neutral in this time of moral crisis that hell has a special place for them. Maybe not quite in those terms, but US policies in the Middle East mean continued violence, volatility, and suffering by real people. We may be complicit by being US citizens, but that makes our dissent all the more urgent.