By Samantha Honken, The Daily Iowan
Of average height and build with salt-and-pepper hair, Jonathan Kuttab’s physical qualities may not have been too imposing, but his words quickly captivated his audience as he began his speech: “Can there ever be peace in Palestine?”
And he answered with a emphatic “Yes.”
“There is very clearly a possible formula for peaceful existence for both Israel and its neighbors,” the international lawyer told a group of students and community members on Monday.
A cold, rainy morning didn’t stop around 50 people from attending the lecture by Kuttab, who spoke about the difficulties facing the Middle East as it strives towards peace.
Kuttab, who is from Palestine and is a member of the bar in Israel, Palestine, and New York, made two stops in Iowa City on Monday as part of a weeklong speaking tour of the Midwest.
At noon, he addressed a crowd of students and community members over lunch at the Congregational United Church of Christ as a guest of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council. He spoke to a crowd of around 40 people at the Boyd Law Building on the same topic at 3 p.m.
Sharon Benzoni, the executive director of the foreign-relations council, said the group was excited to welcome Kuttab because his “compelling personal narrative” would appeal to their diverse group of members.
“We’re excited to hear about the legal history he can bring to light in the conflict,” she said before his lecture.
As guests munched on a lunch of grilled chicken, coleslaw, and falafel, the charismatic Kuttab said people have talked about peace in the region for years, but must take action soon.
“There is something basically unstable in the current situation,” Kuttab said.
Adrien Wing, a UI law professor and longtime friend of Kuttab’s, said his three law degrees are instrumental to his grasp of international law.
“It gives him a systematic understanding for law and politics,” she said at the lecture.
Kuttab’s fluency in three languages — Arabic, Hebrew, and English — gives him the capability to read the legal texts from each country and effectively analyze them, Wing said.
His knowledge of law has contributed to the work he does in human rights, as well — he is the founder of Al-Haq, a respected Palestinian human-rights organization.
“Israeli occupation has denied people of basic rights,” Kuttab said in an interview after his noon address.
He noted that many Palestinians are restricted to where they can travel, get medicine, or live, and they are often tried in courts of law in a language they cannot understand.
“It’s discriminatory,” he said. “It’s racist, and it’s unjust.”
Despite the difficulties facing Palestinians, Kuttab ended his speech looking forward.
“Even as desperate a situation as it is now, we can still be full of hope for a future in which there will be peace in Palestine,” he said.
UI junior Roberto Paniagua said he felt uplifted by Kuttab’s words of peace.
“I’m glad he started and ended with hope,” Paniagua said. “It’s good to hear in person — not just on the news — that there’s hope for the Middle East.”