An invitation to my fellow Jewish Americans mourning the current state of democracy in Israel

With thanks to The Fellowship of Reconciliation

and our former fiscally sponsored partner, Waging Nonviolence,

here is my latest article they just published. 

Please help spread the word and get this in front of people who don't yet agree with me.


Earlier this month, I attended the large Jewish-led demonstration in Washington, D.C. (un)welcoming Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich to the U.S. We gathered in the cold rain to say that his remarks celebrating a brutal pogrom — and suggesting the state should take over from the settlers and “wipe out” a Palestinian town — are morally unacceptable and antithetical to the values at the core of our faith. We agree that, in this moment, the future of Israeli democracy is being decided.

I found it quite moving to be among so many Jews united in our outrage and concern. It strikes me that there is much agreement among those gathered, and I get the impression that there are important potential disagreements we should discuss openly. First, let’s focus on the points of agreement between us. Since the protest was organized around letting Smotrich know he doesn’t represent us or Judaism, we can assume there is consensus in opposing his rhetoric and policies.

My ancestors fled Eastern Europe running from violent pogroms. I never imagined that my people — the people of the book and of the Exodus — would make the word “pogrom” relevant and force us to face its clear painful definition. But sadly that is where we are. Turning away from this reality does not make it any less real, but instead blocks our chances of co-creating positive change.

So we stood together in Washington, D.C. to call us forward to a better future. I assume we also agree that Smotrich and his ilk can’t define us out of Judaism. Those who have such a narrow, limited, unloving view of Judaism must not be allowed to decide if we, the vast majority of the world’s Jews, are indeed Jewish. I know who I am. They can never take my identity away from me. Nor yours from you.

I hope we also agree that we must actively oppose any attempts to use warped theological cover as an excuse for what comes down to Jewish supremacy. Every group should celebrate the unique beauty of their traditions, but whenever people suggest that “we” are somehow inherently better than “the other,” danger is close at hand. Anyone who pretends that a “Jewish soul” is superior to all others is warping our faith in a way that undermines our proud history. This belief is having a profound impact on key policy decisions and on people’s lives. Thus, we have a clear and ongoing obligation to call out this evil from within our community.

As Jews, our scripture makes clear that freedom is the universal right of all people. In this moment, I hope we can all agree that Palestinians are human beings deserving of the same basic rights as all other precious human beings. This should not be controversial, but sadly it clearly is.

As we mourn the current state of democracy in Israel, I hope we can also agree that the occupation is corrupting Judaism and leading us down a dangerous path. We were told the occupation was defensive in nature and only temporary. Anyone watching closely now knows that is not accurate. As those who long advocated for a two-state solution, we must admit that approach is no longer possible. Instead we are called to the difficult and essential task to find a way to live together.

Maybe those with me on the street that day are not yet in agreement about some of what I’ll raise below, but I hope — building on the major points of agreement above — we can engage in mutually respectful dialogue about these other vital issues. And, at the end of this piece, I offer an invitation to begin that conversation.

Some who gathered to greet Smotrich seem to be of the belief that all was well prior to the last election. They suggest that somehow we could restore a democracy by avoiding the worst excesses of this new extreme government. I’m not Israeli, but instead, like most on the street that day, I’m one of many American Jews who have cared about the region for years. When we came together to let Smotrich know he was not welcome, we brought with us a range of beliefs and approaches to street protest. Remember the old joke about a gathering of Jews always having one more opinion than people? It proved true that day.

I’ve organized many events and I understand the valid concern about message discipline. Still, it was troubling that those in the large group with many Israeli flags were harshly unwelcoming of Palestinian flags joining in. From my perspective, the image of those flags together better represents our deep concerns about Israeli democracy itself. With deliberate intent, Israelis have been told that the Palestinian flag is a symbol of hate. We’d be much better off if people could understand the flag and the familiar head scarf (keffiyeh) as symbols of a people whose basic human needs have not been met. Of course, that vast understatement does not adequately reflect the scope of Palestinian suffering that should concern us all.

It is self-evident to me that you can’t have a healthy democracy while actively implementing oppressive policies that demean the basic humanity of others. If you have another view, I’d like to understand it. I celebrate those standing up for democracy in Israel and ask them to extend their compassion to include Palestinians. It seems to me that any true understanding of democracy requires this simple and essential step.

The changes we need to make are systemic, and still we recognize that all systems are built on individual actions. What we each do over time creates the system we live in. Maybe if those of us who ended up on that same street, at the same time, can find a way to better understand each other, we can do our small part to help create that larger system-wide change we so desperately need. Having celebrated dialogue groups in the past, I now see both their power and their limitations. It seems they can give good-hearted caring people something meaningful to do while the oppressive structure remains firmly in place. Still, in these troubled times, I’m not willing to give up on communication between people, even those with fundamental disagreements.

So I invite each of you reading this to check out the Global Town Hall that took place on Tuesday, March 28. We gathered to hear from two renowned nonviolent Palestinian scholars and activists, one just returned to the U.S. and the other joining us while on a trip to the region. These smart visionary leaders are worth listening to.

Of course, this is not the only opportunity to listen to Palestinians or engage with others coming to terms with what is happening in the world these days. If you couldn’t make this particular conversation, please find others. Consider getting in touch with me and seeing what kind of forum we might craft together. In particular, I ask readers to help get this piece in front of the new organization UnXeptable and the longtime Progressive Israel Network, which both played key roles in the protest.

To all those who were with us on the street that day and to those with us in spirit, let’s build on our shared concern for peace and democracy in the region and be ready to listen and learn together as we seek a path forward to a better future. We all agree that we stand at a crossroads. For many of us, this perilous moment is deeply frightening, but we must not hide from that fear. I still believe that if we work together it might also prove to be a moment of opportunity. The veil has been lifted. Let us be brave enough to see clearly the challenges we face and together find a way to overcome them.


NVI is interested in supporting efforts to provide direct relief to the residents of Huwara. 

If you can, please consider making a donation. 

If you give, please let us know it is for this purpose. 

https://wagingnonviolence.org/forusa/2023/03/to-those-who-protested-the-israeli-finance-minister-with-me-lets-talk/


(Art Credit - Kayla Ginsburg - from CJNV)

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Kuttab Brothers Debate the Future of Palestine

June 28, 5:00 PM Jerusalem time, 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Kuttab Brothers Debate the Future of Palestine:

Where are We Now and Where are We Going?

Register Here!

The situation in Palestine is becoming increasingly dire. Daily ferocious and deadly attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue, alongside the blockade of humanitarian aid and medical care for those most in need. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ongoing violence from settlers and the Israeli army against Palestinians persists, including harming civilians, land confiscation, and destruction of property. In Israel (1948 territories), Palestinians are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and violence. 

Public declarations and positions by Israeli officials are undermining efforts not only for a ceasefire but also for a genuine and viable solution that ensures peace and security for all residents of the region. Subjugating the Palestinians seems to be the only solution offered by these politicians and there seems to be wide support for them.

Additionally, many experts warn that the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of collapse, rendering it even more powerless than before to provide for its population and protect it from these relentless attacks and violations, even in statements of condemnation.

The ongoing struggle has left many around the world with questions about the future of Palestine and the nonviolence resistance movement.

The Crucial Questions:

  • Where is the Palestinian movement for liberation standing now?
  • What is the future of the Palestinian political leadership?
  • Is there any viable solution to the occupation and what does it look like?

Joining us to answer these questions and many more are two brothers who have dedicated their lives to Palestinian liberation and peace.

Featured Speakers:

Jonathan Kuttab: Jonathan Kuttab is a leading human rights lawyer. In 1979, he co-founded Al Haq, the first international human rights legal organization in Palestine. Later, he co-founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence (now Nonviolence International) and also founded the Mandela Institute for Prisoners. Jonathan is a Palestinian Christian, past chair of the Bethlehem Bible College, and serves on the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center in Jerusalem. Jonathan was part of the 1994 legal team for the Cairo agreement that resulted in the Oslo II Accord. He was a visiting scholar at Osgoode Law School at York University in Toronto in the Fall of 2017 and is a founding director of Just Peace Advocates Mouvement pour une Paix Juste, a Canadian-based international law human rights not-for-profit. Jonathan is a resident of East Jerusalem and a partner of the Kuttab, Khoury, and Hanna Law Firm in East Jerusalem.


Daoud Kuttab: Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and media activist. He is the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Daoud Kuttab is currently the director general of Community Media Network (CMN), a not-for-profit media organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. CMN is registered in Jordan and Palestine and administers Radio al Balad in Amman and ammannet.net. He is a regular columnist on Palestinian issues with Al-Monitor, Arab News, and writes frequently in the Washington Post, LA Times, Al Jazeera, New Arab, Newsweek, The New Republic, and other publications.

Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Daoud studied in the United States and has worked in journalism since 1980. He has received several international awards, among them: the CPJ Freedom of Expression Award, the IPI World Press Freedom Hero, the PEN Club USA Writing Freedom Award, the Leipzig Courage in Freedom Award, the Next Foundation Peace in Journalism Award, and the Japanese Peace Award for producing Shara'a Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.

Join us for an insightful and compelling discussion on the current state and future of the Palestinian movement, political leadership, and the quest for a viable solution to the occupation. We will be taking a limited number of questions from the participants. 

Register Here!

Direct Action by Solidarity Activists to Break the Siege

 

https://youtube.com/shorts/yD8V3kn-UKE?si=bGj0edTBl51e5Fst

 

 As we witness the daily horrific attacks against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, we also see the global movement calling for a ceasefire and an end to Israeli genocide grow with protests taking place across every major city in the world today. Taking this activism a step further, many are also engaged in direct action to break the siege of Gaza that has lasted for over 17 years and intensified in the last 8 months. People that are ready to put their lives on the line to save others. These people represent us, the global nonviolence movement, coming together from different parts of the world and from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.These are the ones who said, in the face of the impossible, we want to do something.

This will be hosted by Sami Awad. Our impressive speakers updated us and answered our questions!

Freedom Flotilla-Ann Wright

Rabbis for a Ceasefire- Ilana Sumka

Host- Co-Director of Nonviolence International, Sami Awad


Register Now!

Stop Arms to Israel

NVI is supporting efforts to pressure governments, most notably the USA, to halt its weapons transfers to Israel so as not to contribute to further war crimes and human rights abuses.

Control Arms (which has recently spun-off from NVI) issued a statement that calls on governments to abide by the Arms Trade Treaty.  US Pres. Trump withdrew from the ATT and the Biden administration has shamefully refused to re-sign.  NVI is proud to have supported Control Arms and the Arms Trade Treaty and encourages all to support this valuable citizens' network and this humanitarian disarmament treaty.

May 2024 - #Stop Sending Arms - Control Arms Statement on the Israel - Palestine Conflict

1. Control Arms, in partnership with the Ceasefire Now coalition of 688 NGOs, calls attention to the role of transferred weapons, parts, and ammunition in facilitating the atrocities taking place in Gaza, and demands a halt to these transfers and the immediate establishment of a ceasefire.

2. Israel’s bombardment and siege are depriving the civilian population of the basics to survive and rendering Gaza uninhabitable. Today, the civilian population in Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented severity and scale caused by systematic, deliberate destruction of the basics of life. Palestinian armed groups have indiscriminately fired rockets into Israel without concern for the protection of civilians and with open disregard for international humanitarian law (IHL). 

3. We have witnessed more than six months of relentless Israeli attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war. The International Court of Justice has ruled it is plausible that this could amount to genocide. All States have an obligation to prevent atrocities. In these circumstances, the Arms Trade Treaty is clear: any transfer of weapons, ammunition, parts and components that are at risk of being used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and therefore, must cease immediately. 

4. The four Geneva Conventions and customary international law obligates all states to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. By ending their supply of items that are at risk of being used in the conflict, major arms exporting states can help to bring an end to serious violation of IHL and most importantly to the suffering being witnessed in Gaza. As close partners to Israel, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom shoulder a distinct duty in this regard.

5. Despite the United States and its allies repeatedly urging Israel to protect civilians in Gaza, the United States has decided to provide over US$14 billion in further military support without any new conditions to protect human rights. This aid includes expanded authorities for arms transfers and subsidizing Israel's defense industry. The U.S. should withhold this assistance or enforce existing laws, such as Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prevents aiding countries that restrict humanitarian assistance. Failure to act risks prolonging civilian suffering in Gaza and escalating regional tensions.

Here is another coalition Letter to US State Department calling for a Halt of Weapons Transfers to Israel

For more information on Control Arms, here is a link to Control Arms work seeking to halt weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen. Otherwise, one can go to the website Controlarms.org

Nonviolence Can Heal National Traumas, by Jonathan Kuttab

Dear reader,

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more generalized trauma are not only personal and individual in character but often afflict whole nations and peoples. Frequently historical in nature, trauma can be passed down intergenerationally. 

One of the greatest examples of such trauma afflicting  humanity is that of the Holocaust, compounding the historical experience of centuries of persecution, hatred, and discrimination against Jewish people. This is a trauma that made it easy for many to succumb to the doctrines of Zionism, offering Jewish empowerment via Jewish supremacy in a Jewish-dominated state as the only cure for their ongoing suffering. It has made many easy prey for fascist doctrines, of belief in the value of violence and military overkill as the only path to survival. It has also made it difficult for many to take seriously any path towards peace and reconciliation that is not firmly rooted in their military power and supremacy. And while many cynically exploit the traumas of the Holocaust for political ends, there exists a genuine phenomenon of authentic fear that cries out for healing and needs to be addressed.

That rabbit hole of domination and “deterrence” will likely doom Israeli Jews to eternal strife and enmity with their neighbors, leading to ever increased militarization since in their traumatized state no amount of military power will ever be sufficient, and any attempt by Palestinians to resist that domination is only likely to reinforce the trauma. Similarly, all peace efforts will be viewed with deep suspicion and reticence, particularly if they require concessions that seem to reduce Israeli military domination or appear to make Israel weaker or more vulnerable to the risk of future attacks.

As a Palestinian, I am keenly aware of these traumas. I realize, however unjust it is, that our liberation is tied to the healing of our oppressors from the traumas of the past, for which we are the current victims.

Rubble from a destroyed school in Palestine

I am also aware that armed struggle by Palestinians, however legitimate under international law—and even if it were directed solely at armed soldiers and settlers—still risks reinforcing rather than healing the trauma.

In addition to this, we cannot forget that the Palestinians also have a long history of trauma, are now being traumatized, and are in great need healing, especially when the current genocide stops and the difficult process of rebuilding Gaza commences. Tens of thousands of orphans, bereaved families, over 70,000 wounded, and millions who have lost their homes require not only justice but also time and space to undertake a long process of healing.

I am also deeply conscious of how attractive the call to violence can be for oppressed and traumatized peoples. The events of October 7—apart from the attacks on civilians at the music festival and the kibbutzim as well as the taking of civilian hostages, which are properly to be condemned in no uncertain terms—were also viewed by many Palestinians as a brilliantly successful military operation whereby resistance fighters armed with primitive hand held weapons simultaneously breached the sophisticated walls imprisoning Gaza in 30 locations, captured two army bases, including the headquarters of the Gaza Battalion, killing 340 soldiers and capturing about 40 others, and carried the fight into the territory held by their enemies (rather than their own). Despite the massiveness of the Israeli retaliation and the utter destruction of Gaza, the events of that day will likely hold an appeal to those who preach armed resistance for many years to come.

So we clearly need to resist the siren call for violence, especially in our pursuit of justice. But what can we do to bring about some measure of healing to these deep traumas that are currently feeding the cycle of violence and without the healing of which, no peace is possible?

NVI's fiscal partner, Holy Land Trust along with FOSNA held an extensive series of trainings, attended by over 70 Palestinians in the West Bank, to work on the process of dealing with ongoing trauma. We are also committed to pursuing such healing globally. 

Another conversation between NVI's new Co-Director, Sami Awad and Gabor Mate “From Pain to Healing: Healing Collective Trauma in Israel/Palestine” deals with this problem as well. It is this healing process that is urgently needed by all sides, and it is one area that supporters of nonviolence, can be part of the solution.

Peace,

Jonathan Kuttab, Co-Founder and Board Member

P.S.The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is delayed in Turkey, but another boat is headed from Sweden and is currently near Eurovision raising awareness of the ongoing blockade and siege of Gaza.

 

(Art Credit - Kayla Ginsburg - from CJNV)

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