As per his website, https://jonathankuttab.org/, Jonathan Kuttab “is a co-founder of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and co-founder of Nonviolence International. A well-known international human rights attorney, he practices law in the US, Palestine and Israel.” Jonathan Kuttab is a peace activist and the author of Beyond The Two-State Solution and The Truth Shall Set You Free, among others. He currently lives in East Jerusalem.
Jonathan, your philosophy of nonviolence is reminiscent of Gandhi’s adoption of ahimsa. In a world which idealizes violent resistance and warfare, how does nonviolence work within the framework of an occupation or even apartheid?
Nonviolence works on three fronts to address the hearts and minds: On the oppressed, to give them courage to resist and withhold their consent to the oppressive system, whatever the price; [o]n the oppressor to appeal to their humanity and better nature to end the oppression, and to refuse to participate in its cruelty; and on third parties to act with solidarity to pressure the oppressor, and to withhold support and complicity with the oppression. BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) is an example of that third party involvement. This is classic nonviolence theory, and it applies to occupation, as well as apartheid. The fact that the United States, and certain European countries are major enablers, and are complicit in the horrors of Gaza is an additional reason to challenge them with nonviolent actions for their complicity and participation.
As a peacemaker, your goal is to bring sides together. But given the history of the conflict in question, how can Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace when both peoples consider each other enemies?
They can do so only by abandoning (or adjusting) their ideologies to accept each other. Israelis need to abandon Jewish supremacy, and the idea of having a state that serves Jews only. Palestinians also need to accept Jews who have settled in their country as equal co-citizens, even though their entry into the land and their setting up the state of Israel was at their expense. We need a new hybrid nationalism that is based on multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi religious society that respects all the inhabitants of the Holy land. I have described the vision of such a society in my book Beyond the Two States Solution which explains how such a society can exist regardless of who has a numerical majority.
Christianity speaks often of radical love and radical forgiveness. How does your Christian faith serve as a guiding light for your peace efforts, particularly in a region plagued by divisiveness and conflict?
Christ’s message of radical love is truly radical. It is, however, precisely what is needed in this situation. In fact, apart from its spiritual and religious virtue, it is the ONLY approach that can work. Neither party has the ability to achieve its goals based on military power. Therefore, a Christian approach is not only useful. It is the only answer to the hatreds and divisiveness that plague the area.
Also, as a Christian, how frustrating is it that the world considers the Palestinian issue as predominantly a Muslim cause?
You are right. Much of the Western world is quite ignorant of the facts on the ground and are not aware of the existence of Palestinian Christians as an integral part of the Palestinian people. They also increase the problem by treating it as a religious conflict, and then using Palestinians to pay the bill for their own antisemitism and oppression of Jews for centuries and millennia. Talking of Judeo-Christian values and allowing Islamophobia to color their views also feeds into this vicious cycle.
The world watches in horror as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spreads its tentacles across the globe. As a Palestinian, what message would you like to share with the world in terms of your vision of peace?
The Palestinian question has become a litmus test for liberal values, for international law, for universality of standards. Those in the West who refuse to accept the humanity of Palestinians and who create a “Palestine exception” end up losing their integrity and credibility when they try to appeal to the same values of democracy, self-determination, human rights and liberalism in other areas of the world ( such as the Ukraine). Much of the world sees the position of the US, in particular, as being very hypocritical.
On the other hand, if we are willing to apply the same values across the board to friend and foe alike, we can begin to think of an international community of values and of solidarity to make the whole world a better place.
And, finally, as we find ourselves powerless in a world in which love is feared and fear is love, how can we raise the voices of peace activists such as yourself and spread the message of love and oneness far and wide, even in the face of brutality and tragedy?
Sometimes one feels like a voice crying in the wilderness, but sometimes we see that there is a huge untapped mass of people with goodwill who share our views and who would be willing to stand up and be counted, when the opportunity arrives. In Germany, we saw tens of thousands go out into the streets and (illegally-since their government banned all such protests) protest against the brutality and the tragedy of Gaza. We also see many Jewish people who are willing to face tremendous pressure from their families and community to go out and protest and even risk arrest as they demand Ceasefire Now, and block roads, train stations and politicians’ offices demanding an end to the slaughter of Palestinians. I do not think we are powerless. I think we need to organize, be brave, seek out solidarity and alliances with others, and provide a principled and consistent message to the world. It is true, sometimes the world will not listen, and will persecute us, since prophets are usually not popular in any society, but we should not give up.