Conflict-Sensitive Programming

Religious Extremism, Insurgence and Terrorism

No other region of the world is so much associated with violent conflict as the Middle East. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago created a number of new states which were carved out of the map with a ruler on a desk. This process was furthermore affected by the interests of Britain and France, by the wishes of different religious communities, by the need for rewarding the leaders of the Arab revolt against the Turks, and by political developments inside Europe. The end of the British mandate over Palestine and the birth of Israel made the contradicting interests clearly obvious, and since then the region has not come to rest. In the meantime, conflict lines have also sharpened between Muslims and Christians, between Sunni and Shi'a and even within the various groups. The collapse of Iraq and Syria and the emergence of the "Islamic State" are the newest indicators of disintegration.

"Do No Harm" in the Middle East:
Working in a Global Political Hotspot


Iraq has not seen peace for two generations. Ten years of brutal war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent economic isolation, and finally the occupation by US forces and the ensuing insurgency have made violence a daily experience for all Iraqis. Currently, the country is divided on ethnic lines between Arabs and Kurds and on religious lines between Sunni and Shi'a, making it difficult to rebuild the destroyed economy. This situation has been used by the extremists of the "Islamic State", who have gained control of wide parts in the North and in the West of the country. Looking at the relief operations of many international agencies in such a situation, it has been a shocking experience to find that conflict-sensitive approaches are hardly known among organizations working in Iraq.

Immediately after the removal of the former dictator, Iraqis saw themselves all of a sudden exposed to the influences from the rest of the world. This was an oppportunity for many young people to learn about political science and international law. The Baghdad-based Students' League for Human Rights is one such promising institution whose members were introduced to both the "Do No Harm" concept and to "Reflecting on Peace Practice". Their cooperation with the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council later led to a fruitful exchange with students from other countries in the region, coming together in the "Middle East Youth Forum".

The British charity War Child has been implementing projects on child protection in the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra and Dhi Qar, basing their programme on context analyses according to the "Do No Harm" methodology. Conflict sensitivity was systematically integrated into the country strategic plan, opening opportunities for the integration of participatory approaches and a specific focus on alternatives to violence.

The strongest efforts to integrate "Do No Harm" into programmes in Iraq have been made by Save the Children International. During three exposure workshops in Erbil, in Dohuk and in Sulaymaniyya, about 70 staff members were introduced to the approach, analysed their respective contexts and reflected about options through which any negative side-effects observed could be avoided. The sequence of workshops and the following e-mail communication with participants was conducted under the title "Conflict Sensitivity and Diversity" and had as a second objective the improvement of internal relationships among staff members from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.


After the establishment of the state of Israel, the areas of Gaza and of the West Bank had been incorporated into Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Follwing the war of 1967, they had come under Israeli occupation, and only after the peace agreement of 1994 some form of self-government has been established for the Palestinians in these areas. But occupation and expansion of Jewish settlements have continued up to now, and so any development work with the population in the occupied Palestinian territories will inevitably face limitations due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli government. Still, the "Reflecting on Peace Practice" project has looked at conflict resolution initiatives between the two enemies, while "Do No Harm" has been used on very local levels within the Palestinian territories.

The German Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst has embraced the "Do No Harm" approach in its grassroots work in Jericho in order to bring together townspeople and beduins as well as indigenous inhabitants and displaced people who had escaped the war of 1948. An introductory workshop was held with participants from the local authorities, followed by advisory services offered in field visits. Two staff members have later attended a Training of Trainers in Uganda in order to create local expertise on "Do No Harm" within Palestine.


The kingdom of Jordan appears as a peaceful haven in the middle of destruction and turmoil. It is hard to believe that this country now harbours more refugees than Jordanians. Refugees have come in several waves, from Palestine after the various wars with Israel, from Iraq under Saddam Hussein and even more after the US led invasion, as well as from Syria in the current crisis. Many of the initial refugee camps have merged with their Jordanian neighbourhoods and can hardly be differentiated by an outsider's view. Consequently, many Palestinian refugees consider Jordan as their home now. Nevertheless, there are tensions, especially concerning the big number of Syrian refugees who have arrived in recent years and who are mostly living in huge camps near to the Northern border.

It seems to be strange that "Do No Harm" is not more familiar in such an environment. In fact, most agencies do not consider conflict-sensitive programming approaches a priority in Jordan. This has slightly changed in regard to the work with Syrian refugees, where organizations like War Child UK and CARE International have tried to implement their projects in the camps on the basis of a concrete context analysis. Furthermore, USAID has offered two introductory workshops for their staff in Amman.


Lebanon has experienced a bloody civil war in the 1990s, destroying its reputation as the "Switzerland of the Middle East" for ever. In this small but densely populated state on the Mediterranean coast, Maronite Christians, Druzes, Sunni Muslims and Shi'a Muslims live in close vicinity to each other albeit deeply divided. It has always been a fragile balance to distribute political positions among the various population groups. In addition, there have been big numbers of Palestinian refugees since the first war with Israel in 1948, and the animosities against the Southern neighbour have again and again led to military confrontations. What keeps the Lebanese up is their unbroken wish for survival and their love of life.

Good examples for common values and interests among the different population groups were presented in a case study looking at the peace education programme of Unicef. Medical support, education activities and youth summer camps always worked with people from all communities, contributing to the mutual acceptance of each other. The case study can be found in part 2 of Mary B. Anderson's book "Do No Harm - How Aid can Support Peace or War".

Working in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon does not only require to be sensitive about relations with the host community but also being careful about internal tensions. Political confrontations at home have always influenced relationships among the refugees outside, and the hopelessness of a situation where people are refugees in the 3rd or 4th generation has been a breeding ground for extremism. Recently, the Syrian crisis has added a new component to the perspective of peaceful co-existence among these refugees, as Palestinians who had lived in Syria have been forced to flee again and are competing over limited resources. The Swiss organization HEKS and its local partner Najdeh are trying to put "Do No Harm" into practice in this complex situation.

In spite of its recent history of violence, Beirut is still a prominent destination for people from other Arab countries, offering opportunities for conferences and seminars. Accordingly, the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council and the British charity War Child both brought partners from Iraq to Lebanon in order to discuss peace-building and conflict-sensitive planning for their projects at home. At the same time, these opportunities were used to share experience between Lebanese and Iraqi professionals.

For a number of years, the German Civil Peace Service has offered introductory trainings on "Do No Harm" in Lebanon, which has become particularly relevant for organizations working with refugees from Syria. Local expertise is also available at World Vision; this organization has worked with "Do No Harm" since the original inception of the approach and has a lot of practical experience with conflict-sensitive programming.


In spite of its differences with Israel, occupying the Syrian territory on the Golan Heights since 1967, and in spite of the political oppression through the ruling party, Syria has long been considered a stable country in the Middle East. This changed when the "Arab Spring" reached Damascus in 2011. Peaceful demonstrations demanding democracy, human rights and political freedoms were crushed with military force, and since that time the escalations of violence have reached unprecedented levels. After five years of civil war, 400,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been forced to seek protection elsewhere, out of whom 4 million in the neighbouring countries. A multitude of opposition groups has emerged, fighting not only against the central government but also against each other, while several global powers have been drawn into the conflict, too.

While it seems to be almost impossible to offer humanitarian services within Syria in the current state of violence, several organizations are reaching out to the civilian population, mainly through local partner organizations. Additionally, a number of international NGOs are providing services to the refugees who have crossed the border to Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. One of these, Save the Children International, has explicitly taken up the "Do No Harm" approach and has started training all their staff involved in the humanitarian work in Syria in workshops held either in Turkey or in Iraq.

In the meantime, our network also has one "Do No Harm" trainer from Syria.


As the seat of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey had been the dominant regional power in the Middle East for several hundreds of years. With the emergence of the Turkish Republic after the end of the First World War, there has been a re-orientation of Turkey towards Europe, while all the former territories of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East gained their independence after a short period of colonial domination. Still, the common history keeps Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq interlinked. During the last 15 years, the collapse of Iraq and Syria has had severe effects on Turkey, too, particularly through the large amount of refugees looking for safety.

The province of Hatay, which had been incorporated into the Turkish Republic only in 1939, is of particular interest in this regard, as it has a strong Arabic-speaking minority. Many refugees from the neighbouring Syrian governorates of Idlib and Aleppo have arrived here, receiving services from the Turkish government and from various international organizations. Save the Children International, for example, is working with these refugees, trying to assure that their assistance does not cause tensions between refugees and the local host population. Consequently, the organization has started an internal training programme on "Conflict Sensitivity and Diversity", which does not only cover the "Do No Harm" approach but also aims at improving cooperation among the highly diverse staff.


The Northern parts of Yemen had been one of the most isolated countries of the world until 1962 when a revolution overturned the King and brought modern politics into the very traditional society of the country. Several years later, the British colonial rule over the harbour of Aden ended together with the protectorates over several autonomous states in Southern Yemen. For more than twenty years two independent countries existed in Yemen, divided not only by their own history but also by the global East-West conflict of the time. When the country united in 1990, a short war confirmed the dominant role of the government in Sana'a. Since then, different tribal groups have challenged the central government by occasional kidnappings of foreigners, meant to bring to light the marginalization of their areas. In recent years, the internal tensions have unfortunately grown into a full-scale war, which has also cut the ties between the two branches of Islam present in Yemen. The involvement of military powers from neighbouring countries has surely not reduced the level of violence.

Before the current eruption of hostilities, the German Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) had introduced the "Do No Harm" approach into its country programme. During a four-days workshop in Sana'a and a follow-up meeting in Germany, staff was exposed to conflict-sensitive programming and assisted in its practical application.