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Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 30.07.2007:

By Sari Nusseibeh

with Anthony David

Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York, 2007, 560 pages, $27.50.

Once Upon a Country is as remarkable a book about the Middle East as has been published in recent years. The story of one man’s life in the region, it is also the richest and most sympathetic account to date of the modern Palestinian outlook – a work of rare depth, compassion, and emotional power. It is a prominent Palestinian’s searching, anguished, deeply affecting autobiography, in which his life story comes to be the story of the recent history of his country. Sari Nusseibeh’s autobiography is a remarkable book – one in which his dramatic life story and that of his embattled country converge in a work of great passion.

Nusseibeh – now a university president – was raised to be a “representative man” of post-1948 Palestine. His family’s roots in the region can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and his father served as the governor of Jerusalem. Educated in philosophy at Oxford (where he met his wife, Lucy) and Harvard (where he worked as a dishwasher to make ends meet) Nusseibeh returned to Jerusalem intending to build upon his father’s support for coexistence and a negotiated solution to the problems of the region.

But the wars of 1967 and 1973 spelled the beginning of the end for the vision of a unified Palestine taking its place alongside Israel – and Nusseibeh’s story dramatizes the consequences of war, partition, and the events that followed, giving us the recent history from a Palestinian point of view as few other books have done. From his time teaching side by side with Israelis at the Hebrew University through his appointment by Yasser Arafat to administer Arab Jerusalem, he holds fast to a two-state solution, even as the powers around him insist that it is impossible. As Palestine is torn apart by settlements and barricades, corruption and violence, Nusseibeh remains true to the ideals of his youth, determined to keep hold of some faint hope for the life of his country.Once Upon a Country is a book with the scope and vitality of an old-fashioned novel – one whose ending is still uncertain. Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine praised Once Upon a Country saying, “If you have but one book to read about the Palestinian story, this is the book to read, with no reservations.”

Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, a philosopher, was the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief representative in Jerusalem from 2001 to 2002, in which role he advocated a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He and former Israeli security chief Ami Ayalon cosponsored a two state peace initiative, “The People’s Voice” in 2003 that gained hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian signatures. He is the president of, and a professor at, Al-Quds University, the only Arab university in Jerusalem. Nusseibeh was a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard for 2004-5. He is the author of two previous books.

Courtesy of the Publisher


This Week in Palestine

August 2007

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