By Mercy Aiken
In September of 2015, BBC launched its Master of Peace program, one of the first of its kind in the Arabic-speaking world. The college has gathered an outstanding cast of world-renowned experts in the fields of peacemaking and reconciliation who have been leading intense two-week sessions on topics beginning with Strategic Nonviolence Activism (Dr. Mubarak Awad) to the most recent class of Peace and International Law with Dr. Jonathan Kuttab. This last class was open to the public and as a volunteer at BBC, I decided to take it. It was a lot of work—as a Master’s level class should be—but I was not disappointed. What better place to study peacemaking than in the birthplace of the Prince of Peace and the site of one of the world’s most bitter conflicts?
The course covered the nature and development of international law and the role that it can play in conflict resolution. Dr. Kuttab approached this subject on the first day of class by asking us if we were all to land on an uninhabited island and had to create laws together for our well-being and survival, what would we come up with?
This is the essence of international law and human rights: how can we survive together as a species in a way that is equitable and fair for everyone? How can we protect the weak and limit the abuses of the strong? How can we hold each other accountable? These are, of course, the very questions of the biblical prophets, who reveal God’s heart for justice especially for the poor and defenseless.
We learned how and why international laws, especially pertaining to human rights, are made. The four sources for international law are: treaties or conventions, practices of nations, writings of scholars and principles of natural justice. I agree with Dr. Kuttab that “there is something divine in it.” We were made in the image of God—and because of that, humans have come up with certain standards that we agree on—basics rights that should pertain to every person regardless of race, religion, sex, age, nationality or any other factor.
A positive trend
As we participated in this course, we were assigned several response papers and a final presentation. I researched the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research. Prior to this class, I would have seen such an agency as idealistic but somewhat ineffective. I am now of the persuasion that UNIDIR and similar UN organizations are helpful. They have set a global standard regarding which sorts of weapons should be off-limits (those that cause undue pain or damage a population’s ability to reproduce, for example), and have helped to create an environment in which there is a measure of global law against those states who attempt to obtain or use such weapons. In other words, because these international organizations exist, it is less easy for any state to do whatever they want and this is ultimately a good thing for all of us. The world is still unsafe, but without such agencies, I have no doubt that world would be even less safe than it is.
With respect to conflict resolution, we looked at some very inspiring cases around the world: the peaceful overthrow of Milosovic in Serbia in 2000 and various truth and reconciliation commissions in Africa, South America, and East Timor. We also looked at the very moving story of Liberia, in which a woman’s movement was the catalyst that brought peace to a war-torn nation. All of these gave hope that the international community, local grassroots activists and praying mothers can have a role to play in bringing healing and restoration to even the most damaged nations. These cases showed us how much is possible in the grace of God. I was filled with great hope to think of the inevitable day when there will be healing and reconciliation in this “Holy Land,” and what a beautiful sight it will be.
Jonathan Kuttab is a well-known human rights lawyer in Palestine, Israel and the United States and the co-founder of Al-Haq; a Human Rights organization based in Ramallah. He is also a cousin of Bishara Awad and the Chairman of the Board of BBC, among other things. As a Mennonite, he is strongly committed to the principles of nonviolence. Despite his life-work dealing with many sad cases of abuse, he is a jolly, twinkly-eyed man who loves to quote Monty Python and who has almost as large a file of topical songs in his head as I do! (Outside of class, he would occasionally burst into song, ranging from the Beatles to Broadway).
The class was a great mix of local Palestinians (including a few Muslims) and expats from around the world, including one student in Saudi Arabia who fully participated in the class via web conferencing. We were also occasionally joined by various volunteers and visitors. Because of the intensity of the class and long hours together, we all became fast friends. In the end, I think we all walked out of the class with a greater sense of hope and optimism. Though there is much suffering and abuse in the world, there is also a greater global consensus on the necessity of guarding human rights for all people; a far greater consensus than there was just 100 years ago. I think there is something divine in that!
BBC plans to open future Peace Studies classes for the community to audit for free and I highly encourage more locals and other visitors at BBC to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.