Jonathan Kuttab, 2023 Bring The Peace award winner, describes how his work as a human rights lawyer relates to peace and justice.
Jonathan Kuttab is an international human rights attorney. He has represented Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams (now Community Peacemaker Teams) in Palestine and was the head of the Legal Committee that negotiated the Cairo Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1994. He has also been involved in the leadership of several Palestine-Israeli human rights groups, such as Al-Haq, Nonviolence International, MennoPIN, Friends of Sabeel North American, Holy Land Trust and Bethlehem Bible College. He worships at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pennsylvania).
Mennonite Church USA is proud to acknowledge Jonathan’s peacebuilding work with the 2023 #BringthePeace Legacy Peacemaker award, sponsored by MC USA’s Church Peace Tax Fund.
Jessica Griggs, blog editor for Mennonite Church USA, spoke with Jonathan Kuttab about his experiences as a peacebuilder.
Q: What does “Bring The Peace” mean to you?
Jonathan: “Bring The Peace” simply repeats the duty of every Christian. We are supposed to work in accordance with the values of the kingdom of God and to bring them into this world. What is more illustrative of the kingdom of God than peace? So bringing the peace is really living our lives in such a way as to bring the kingdom of God into this world.
Q: How are you involved in peace and justice work?
Jonathan: I have been involved in peace and justice work most of my life, and I work for human rights, as well as advocate for peace and justice in Palestine, Israel and throughout the world. I’m involved in non-violence activities. I’m part of Nonviolence International and human rights work and Palestine-Israel work.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your peace and justice work as a lawyer?
Jonathan: I have been trained as a lawyer, and I’m a member of the bar in Palestine, Israel and New York. And in many ways, law is a very useful vehicle. When you are working for human rights, you are collecting documentation as if you were bringing evidence to the courtroom. You’re also working with a set of universal principles — laws and conventions and treaties — that, in theory at least, apply equally across the board, to friend and foe alike. My training in law is a very useful tool when working for peace and human rights.
Q: Was there a pivotal event that moved you toward peace and justice work, or even a person that pushed you toward it?
Jonathan: I don’t know if there was a specific pivotal event. Maybe it was Israel’s occupation of Palestine in 1967, when I was still a teenager. Certainly, there have been important people in my life, like the late Reverend Ron Sider, who wrote a lot about peace and peace activism. He was the founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams (now Community Peacemaker Teams), which works for peace throughout the world. They have been very pivotal in my life as a peace activist.
Q: Where do you encounter God in your peace and justice work?
Jonathan: I definitely encounter God in my work for peace and justice, even though I work with people who are not Christians and people who are secular or Muslim or Jewish. God infuses this kind of work, because God taught us the dignity of all human beings. We are all important enough that Jesus died for us, so human dignity is implicit in that, but also, God calls us to a better world — the kingdom of God. That’s the essence of Jesus’s teaching. In the New Testament, he preached the kingdom of God. So when we’re working for peace, we’re really working for the kingdom.
Q: How do your Anabaptist faith values propel you to do this peacebuilding work?
Jonathan: Anabaptists have rediscovered what Christians throughout the ages should have known implicitly: Jesus stands for peace and for nonviolence. In fact, it’s curious, because in Palestine, all Christians, from all denominations, understand that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He taught us to be peacemakers. And even Muslims understand that, and they’re always surprised at how Christians are so militant, when Jesus taught peace. That’s the essence of who Jesus was. He taught peace, so for me, it’s very basic: Anabaptists, even though they’re a small minority, actually reflect the true teaching of the gospel — certainly, when it comes to peace and nonviolence.
Q: What would you say to encourage those who are not currently engaged in peacebuilding work or who say, “I can’t do that I can’t be like him”?
How can one be a Christian without being involved in peace? I think living in American society is to live in a bubble. You think that you have nothing to do with peace, but this is the biggest, most powerful country in the world when it comes to war, fighting, military spending, and having military bases all over the world. The U.S. has more military power projects and uses more military power than the next 10 countries combined.
Violence and the military are taken for granted in American society, and Anabaptists, at least in theory, stand up against that and say, “No, that’s not what we are called to do. Yes, we are American, and we are very realistic, and we believe in our country, etc. But when it comes to violence, we really stand apart, and we really do not accept it as a given that we should be involved in so much militarism, and so much fighting.”
I know people find all sorts of excuses. They want to fight communism or Islamic fundamentalism. They want to fight for the American way of life. They want to fight to safeguard this country from enemies all over the world. But the reality is that we need a testimony of peacemaking that even this country has tremendous potential to be a force for good for human rights, for democracy, for a better way of life, for people throughout the world. It has the resources and the capability. It has the reach to be a force for good throughout the world. And it doesn’t need a huge military in order to do that.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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