The Truth Shall Set You Free: The Story of a Palestinian Human Rights Lawyer Working for Peace and Justice in Palestine/Israel

By Jonathan Kuttab. Hawakati Publishing, 2023. 328 pages. $21.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.

It was heartbreaking to have the optimism engendered by listening to the audio version of The Truth Shall Set You Free in early October dashed by the October 7 attacks by Hamas and the subsequent response from Israel. But despite—or perhaps because of—the tragedy of these events, Quakers will find much of interest in the work of Palestinian human rights lawyer and cofounder of Nonviolence International Jonathan Kuttab. His memoir offers an engaging and enlightening account of the evolution of his lifelong commitment to ending injustice toward Palestinians through nonviolent direct action that speaks to the Quaker testimonies of peace and equality.

Born into a Pentecostal Christian family in West Jerusalem, Kuttab grew up in Bethlehem and was baptized in the River Jordan at the age of ten. His religious upbringing told him that politics were an “evil, worldly matter” and not his concern. He explains that in Palestine “Christians of all denominations understood Jesus’ teachings to clearly forbid violence and killing.” But as a boy and a teenager facing the hardships and humiliations of life under occupation, he was tormented by the contradiction between his desire to fight for his homeland and the dignity of his people with what he believed were his obligations as a Christian to ignore politics.

He says it was “probably a blessing” that he left Palestine at the age of 16 to attend Messiah College, a Brethren in Christ college in Pennsylvania. Had he stayed in Palestine, he believes he would have ended up dead or in prison as a result of his rage over the circumstances of the occupation.

In the United States, he was excited at first to be among U.S. college students who were grappling with their faith. Yet he was soon astonished by the conservatism and ignorance of students at Messiah in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the fact that there were males at the school who were conscientious objectors for religious reasons, most viewed opposition to the war as unpatriotic. Nor did the largely White students believe that racism was a problem in the United States. Kuttab’s opposition to the war at that time stemmed not from pacifism but from his commitment to anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. During his time at Messiah College, he realized that Israel had been far more successful than Palestinians at communicating its perspective in the United States. In addition, the conservative Christians he encountered believed that the triumph of Israel over the Palestinians was preparing the way for the second coming of Christ.

When his studies later took him to Temple University in Philadelphia, he befriended for the first time Jews who were not Israelis. These new friends expanded his understanding of the history of Christian antisemitism and particularly of the Holocaust. As his understanding of the situation in Israel grew more nuanced, he found his way to a determination to work for the liberation of Palestine through the nonviolent methods espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. But the question remained: how to put these ideas into action.

As a Universalist Quaker, I was initially dubious as to whether I would find Kuttab’s Christian perspective one that would resonate for me. But I was so impressed by his passion and his expansive personality in a Zoom presentation that I wanted to read this book. His description of his spiritual struggles is honest and straightforward. We learn a great deal about circumstances in the Palestinian territories: why olive trees are so important, for example.

Kuttab eventually becomes a human rights lawyer, a member of the bar in Israel, Palestine, and New York State. Again and again, we see him assiduously applying the need for evidence and facts, refusing to rely on hearsay or rumor, even in situations where he suspects that the rumors are accurate. He uses Israel’s own laws to combat injustice, and he sometimes steps out of his role as a lawyer to become an activist, as in a dramatic moment when he stands in the path of a settler driving a bulldozer and is filled not with a fear of death, as he expected, but with a deep sense of peace and serenity. He turns his back, then is astonished when the driver of the bulldozer miraculously stops less than a foot away from Kuttab and turns off his engine. Kuttab does not claim that the use of nonviolence is without risks, however. He describes how, only a couple of weeks after his experience, peace activist Rachel Corrie was bulldozed to death for attempting to block the destruction of a Palestinian home.

Kuttab is also the author of Beyond the Two-State Solution, which he describes as “a vision for the future of Palestine/Israel that accommodates Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in an inclusive democratic state.” A cousin of famed Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, he is a cofounder of Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, and a nonresident fellow at the Arab Center of Washington, D.C.

Lynne Weiss writes fiction and essays and is a co-presiding clerk of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Mass.). You can find more of her opinions and reviews at

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7 thoughts on “The Truth Shall Set You Free: The Story of a Palestinian Human Rights Lawyer Working for Peace and Justice in Palestine/Israel

  1. October 7 changed everything for me. No longer interested in books or reviews that subtly attempt to elicit sympathy for terrorists. Why does the world constantly expect Jews to be willing targets? No amount of crocodile tears can ever wash away the crimes committed by Hamas on October 7, and no amount of hand-wringing can erase the fact that the Palestinians voted for Hamas, knowing full well that their charter called for the extermination of Israel. Why is there no soul-searching and no cries of remorse from Palestinian voices?

    While we’re at it, can we take a look at bloodshed in the Syrian civil war, to cite one example, and perhaps take a look at the attacks on Nigerian Christians? Why are commentators so willing to overlook tragedies like those. And sadly, those are but two instances of many ignored conflicts.

  2. Forgive me for presenting history in simplistic but I think fairly accurate tetms: we are presently transitioning ( with difficulty) from the age of Pisces to the age of Aquarious;& we are still dealing with angst & struggle stemming from the age of Aries. Another way to see this is we have gone from power over; then to the shadow of Pisces ( vivtimhood) & are desiringand/ or repressing spiritual self empowerment.

  3. As a child who was formed by the Jewish experience & who was priveledged to have had a formative kibutz experience, I feel that that it is our duty to be democratic & voice a strong oposition to genocide! I also to reminnd American Jews that this country and many in Europe have saved & defended our existance. More true spirituality & gratitude is needed!

  4. Please don’t publish my city address. I haven’t lived up to my personal ideals! It’s also important for me to add that I have learned from friends at Friends Select that the experience of integration there was superficial & at times perilous.

  5. A better question is why would anyone expect Quakers to give up advocating for peace? How is peace achieved? Simply love and forgive, even enemies, which Moses started with no killing, no exceptions. Fear spirals down to hate/attack/revenge/war. Real courage bravely turns the other cheek. At least Israel avoided a preemptive strike, just overreacted in revenge. Even NPR new coverage essentially admits a problem, probably because wise Jews see excessive Palestinian death (roughly 20 times more) as bad publicity for Israel’s future support in the US in the long run. Big fundamental theological difference between Christians and both Jews/Muslims regarding unconditional forgiveness…if the goal is peace and not revenge.

    Also, why does the for-profit media ignore other conflicts? Syria was allied with Russia, so US intelligence wanted internal conflict (until the extremists were about to take over Syria’s government) and US media did not care. US voters generally don’t vote based on international issues, except perhaps a US involved conflict. War is the worst thing we could do to our neighbors, the most costly for our own blood and treasure, and increasingly risks our own stability as the internet widely shares the harm our wars cause for US working people. Nigeria is likely a racism/classism expectation of instability that seems to happen more often in Africa, so it’s not the surprise story of man bites dog that journalists love. Would journalists cover a story of peace breaking out in Africa, even if dramatically like the WW1 axis/allies brief Christmas truce in the trenches? Helps when both sides share the same education in basic theological moral values.

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