A Message from Jonathan Kuttab

[Editor’s note: Since writing this note to me before Shabbat, it turned out that at least two of the Palestinians who escaped an Israeli prison have been captured. It is likely that after the torture they will endure, that has regularly faced some Palestinians in Israeli jails, the rest may soon be recaptured. We send this to you not because we identify with these particular Palestinians, but to highlight the Palestinian celebration of the breakout because a significant percentage of Palestinians have themselves (or members of their families or friends) been arrested (often with no particular charge) and held for months and have come to see anyone arrested by the Israeli police as a hero for their liberation struggle. While we do not support violence of any sort used by Israelis or Palestinians, we do support the fundamental demand of the Palestinians for national independence, even while we hope to see a day when all nationalisms, including that of the US, China, Russia, etc, etc, etc and including also that of Israelis and Palestinians, is replaced by an internationalism fervently committed to the well being of all people on earth and the well being of the Earth!!
–Rabbi Michael Lerner rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com 
If you share my perspective, you are invited to share Yom Kippur with us: info at  https://www.tikkun.org/hhd2021/ ] 

A Message from Jonathan Kuttab

A Christian Liberation organization shares its perspective on recent news from Palestine.

Dear Rabbi Michael Lerner,

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  

Luke 4:18

A wave of euphoria swept Palestine recently with the news of the escape of 6 Palestinian prisoners from a Maximum-Security Prison in Northern Israel.  People were celebrating and passing sweets and felt a sense of joy and hope that they had not felt in a long time.  This must be understood in the context of what prisons mean for ordinary Palestinians.

Almost every family in Palestine has experienced the pain and frustration and oppression of having a member of the family being detained and jailed in Israeli prisons.  These prisons are an integral feature of the occupation, but contrary to international law, are located outside the occupied territories, within the borders of Israel itself, and are not easily accessible. Most Israelis view Palestinian prisoners as criminals, or worse, as terrorists who have been rightly convicted of crimes that put them beyond the pale of human empathy and consideration.  Even within the context of peace negotiations, Israelis were reluctant to release most prisoners, and some of them are still languishing in prison since before the Oslo Process started. Failure to obtain their freedom through negotiations is often cited as one of the failures of the peace process.

Most prisoners today are clearly captives and political prisoners.  While many of them did engage in armed struggle, most of them are there for their political views and their struggle for freedom.  More than 500 of them are “administrative detainees” who are held without charges or trial for up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely.  They often engage in hunger strikes, and other acts of protest.  FOSNA supports at the very least the elimination of “administrative detention” and the release of political prisoners, and certainly looks forward to a time when all prisoners are freed.

Early in the life of Sabeel, Rev. Naem Ateek and I, helped found the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners to implement our Christian commitment to visit and care for prisoners.  Jesus clearly said that by visiting (or failing to visit) those who are sick or in prison, we perform (or fail to perform) those services for Jesus Christ himself.  “I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”

Today, Mandela Institute continues to serve Palestinian prisoners, and arrange visits to them.  Rev. Naem and I are no longer on the Board of that organization, and it runs on its own as a secular human rights organization committed to the welfare of prisoners, and ex-prisoners.  The current Executive Director, who co-founded the Mandela Institute with us is Ahmad Sayyad, a Moslem.  His wife Butheina Duqmak is also an attorney who has committed her life and career to prison visitations.  

In a way, our experience with the Mandela Institute reflects our philosophy of activism.  While we are motivated by our faith and theology to act for liberation and justice, we are eager to participate with others from different religions, or no religion who are also working for justice and peace in different contexts.  We actively seek allies and friends who may not share our theological beliefs, but who share our interest in working for a better world, and in confronting the injustices we see.  This is how we understand intersectionality.

God Bless you

Jonathan Kuttab
Executive Director
Friends of Sabeel North America

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