JERUSALEM -- In the most violent part of the world today, a tragic mistake is about to be committed right before the eyes of Israel's desensitized citizenry: unless convincing action is taken, Dr. Mubarak Awad, director of the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Non-Violence -- a two-room-without-secretary outfit in East Jerusalem -- is going to be expelled from this country.

His American-born wife, Nancy, who is the principal of the Friends Quaker school in Ramallah, has had her residence visa renewed by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, but Mubarak has been ordered to leave. As one who has had the privilege of getting to know him soon after his return to his native city, following a long stay in the United States, I have been moved to stand up -- along with many other Jewish friends -- and declare as loudly as I can: "If one of the symbols of Jerusalem is 'the City of Peace,' we cannot imagine continued peaceful coexistence here without Mubarak Awad."

The first Palestinian persistently to oppose terrorism against Jews is facing the consequences of a narrow-minded, bureaucratic decision triggered by the complaint of a hard-core annexationist who would like to "inherit the land" he calls "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank) without its Arab population. At first glance, to Israelis who seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, expulsion seems like an absurd paradox. But to others, Awad represents a radical and threatening departure from the quasi-axiomatic principle that the clash with the Palestinians is a zero-sum game of "kill or be killed," where no compromise is possible.

As Knesset member Yossi Sarid of the Civil Rights and Peace Movement recently wrote in an article titled "Enemy Number One on the West Bank": "{They} understand very well the significance of a Palestinian Mahatma {Gandhi} in the vicinity, a person who may gradually take the place of the murderers." Feeling a strong sense of identification with the principles Awad stands for, Sarid has declared his willingness to waive his parliamentary immunity and stand trial together with Awad in defense of their shared views -- a challenge that raises the issue of the equal right of dissent for Arabs and Jews in this country.

Awad is deeply committed to nonviolence. His aim is not only to discredit violence as a political weapon against Jews in the present conflict but to expunge it from the Arab ethos. His centre's mobile library lends nonviolent stories to children in the neighboring villages, and as a social worker, he himself provides family counseling for a more tolerant approach toward socialization. He has also campaigned against corporal punishment and has denounced the use of force as a way of settling political accounts among the various factions of the Palestinian movement. So thorough is his commitment to nonviolence that Awad is a dedicated vegetarian, opposed to the killing of animals as well as people.

Yet notwithstanding all this evidence to the contrary, an isolated voice in an otherwise chagrined Israeli Foreign Ministry has proclaimed a worldwide campaign against Awad on the grounds that he truly advocates violence!

To prove this case, a paragraph (after considerable effort) was found in Awad's article "Non-Violent Resistance: A Strategy for the Occupied Territories" -- printed in the little-known "Nonviolent Struggle in the Middle East" -- and quoted out of context. Included there among the countless techniques of peaceful resistance and civil disobedience are the blocking of roads, disruption of communications and cutting of electricity, telephone and water lines. In the Middle East, where the word "violence" carries the connotation of murderous physical assault on human beings, this prescription can at most be interpreted as the perpetration of "violence" against objects.

In its original context, moreover, the use of such methods is clearly confined to the dissenter's own property -- namely, land being confiscated by the Israeli authorities. For as the article explains, "If the obstruction occurs in a nonviolent fashion, and the obstructors openly declare that they do not wish to injure anyone, but that they are merely obstructing a plan which injures them and their interests, then . . . this message will also be very clear to the Israelis. They cannot, in such case, accuse anyone of anti-Semitism or hatred for Jews. Neither will they be able to use the excuse of 'terrorism' or to claim that the disturbances are the creation of a small, hateful minority of troublemakers, cowards or provocateurs who inflame the rest of the population."

It is at this point -- when the convenient equation "Palestinian equals terrorist" begins to fall apart and doubts about the wisdom and justice of government policy begin to creep into our minds -- that Mubarak Awad's message becomes highly menacing to some Israeli officials. Granted, his lone voice is all but drowned out by explosions and gunfire on all sides. Yet, the conventional wisdom seems to be: better to silence it completely than to discover it has the power to reverberate among others.

The writer teaches political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at UCLA.