Palestinian Mennonite seeks peace through respect
MC USA speaking tour being developed for spring
Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian-American who attends Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pa., spoke at a New York City synagogue on Nov. 29.
He spoke in favor of Palestinian nationalism — a message he delivered in terms of mutual respect, peace and understanding.
Kuttab asked whether Jews can imagine an Israel that includes and doesn’t delegitimize Palestinians’ existence. It is a strategy that goes both ways.
“Can I expand my Palestinian nationalism to include the dreams of Jewish Zionists, and can they expand their nationalism to include the needs of the people they have displaced?” he asked. “If that can be done, then we can achieve a lot more than if we continue to keep fighting each other.”
The son of a Mennonite pastor in Philadelphia, Kuttab was born in West Jerusalem and has worked as a human rights lawyer, along with volunteering with Mennonite Central Committee in the 1980s in Palestine.
He was a Palestinian negotiator when a two-state solution was an accepted goal by most parties.
However, Kuttab said that today a compromise giving statehood to Palestinians on contested land has become impossible, as the Israeli government supports hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers establishing communities on Palestinian land.
“People are recognizing the new reality, and I think we need something to take its place, so I started talking about a binational solution,” Kuttab said.
It’s an approach that brings Palestinians into Israel as equal citizens, not a 49 percent minority that is oppressed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, Jews and Palestinians are roughly equal — numbering a bit more than 6 million people each.
“You cannot live in a society where you are constantly checking how many babies are born on the other side and if you are in danger,” he said. “We can build in legal, constitutional mechanisms that ensure rights and prosperity, even if they are not in the majority.”
BDS one solution
As a pacifist, Kuttab believes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is an appropriate way to encourage corporations to not participate in Israeli government assistance to settlers illegally moving onto land belonging to Palestinians, even if it would be a drop in the bucket compared to President Obama’s recent record-setting military aid deal for the country.
“BDS is essentially an Anabaptist way of dealing with occupation,” he said. “. . . If you think settlements are illegal under international law, you should put an end to it. There must be a price to be paid.
“You can’t say ‘they are bad, but here is $8 billion more in weapons.’ ”
He was disappointed when Mennonite Church USA delegates tabled a resolution on BDS a year and a half ago at its convention in Kansas City, Mo.
He understands Mennonites don’t like controversy but said some situations go beyond the need to remain neutral.
“If you say I want to be sensitive and understand the history and childhood traumas of a guy who is trafficking human beings or is doing slavery or a torturer, don’t tell me he has a good cause. It’s wrong,” Kuttab said.
He said such occasions call for a firm position. A new resolution was crafted for this summer’s MC USA convention in Orlando, Fla., but Kuttab finds it a bit toothless.
“This resolution was just bending over backwards trying to appear evenhanded and to softpedal some of the critique, which needed to be very forthright,” he said. “Oppression is oppression. Occupation is occupation. Racism is racism.
“If Mennonites have any message at all, it is that military power is not the answer. . . . You need to say, ‘Look, you don’t get security through weapons, but through peace and justice.’ There is none of that in the statement.”
Speaking tour coming
Israel/Palestine Partners in Peacemaking coordinator Jonathan Brenneman works for MC USA under a mandate from a 2015 resolution calling for educational opportunities.
He brought bereaved Israeli and Palestinian family members from the Parents Circle to three Mennonite locations to share about their losses, organized a series of educational webinars and reading groups and helped set up and network regional educational task forces. He also provided staff support for the team that rewrote the 2015 Israel-Palestine resolution for potential approval at this summer’s convention. A three-person writing team, in consultation with a 10-person reference committee, has been working on the resolution during the past year.
“My job with this resolution is to make sure that it is a resolution that is answerable to our Israel and Palestine peace partners,” Brenneman said.
He got feedback from those partners, which include Kuttab, and is incorporating that into the resolution.
In the spirit of the proposed resolution, Kuttab will be joined by another MC USA peacemaking partner on an upcoming speaking tour.
“It made sense to have an attempt to be evenhanded, to have me as well as a person from Jewish Voices for Peace join me to speak,” Kuttab said. “I don’t mind that.”
Dates and locations for the April and May tour are still being determined by Brenneman.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Jonathan Brenneman as responsible for rewriting the 2015 Mennonite Church USA resolution on Israel-Palestine. A three-person writing team, in consultation with a 10-person reference committee, has been working on the resolution during the past year. Brenneman has provided staff support for the writing team.
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