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Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
Sari Nusseibeh
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
560 pp., $27.50

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Harold Fickett


A Palestinian Life

The idiosyncratic yet exemplary story of Sari Nusseibeh.

As I write, the two chief political factions in Palestine, Fatah and Hamas, are engaged in a civil war, as Israel ponders helping Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas restore order and the United States prepares to release previously impounded aid to Abbas' newly-formed government. One of those called upon to help Abbas should certainly be Sari Nusseibeh, the President of East Jersualem's Al-Quds University. He would seem to be the ideal negotiating partner both for Israel and the West. An Oxford- and Harvard-educated philosopher who cherishes the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy, Nusseibeh has already played a role in many peace efforts, both formal and informal, as well as being a clandestine leader of the first intifada or Palestinian uprising and head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Jerusalem. He recounts all this and more, with the help of co-writer Anthony David, in his fascinating memoir Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life.

Nusseibeh's memoir allows the reader to experience the dislocations visited upon the Palestinian people by the creation of Israel, not as a loss abstractly registered but rather in a narrative that a novelist or filmmaker would envy. His family has lived in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Palestine since the Arab invasion of the 7th century, when Caliph Omar granted to the Nusseibehs the keeping of the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nusseibehs have been opening its door each morning ever since, in a cooperative arrangement with the monks who live there. As landowners and proprietors of such businesses as the Gold Souk, the Nusseibehs were firmly established among the oligarchs of Jerusalem prior to the UN partition of 1948 that created Israel. After losing a leg in a skirmish with the Israelis, Sari Nusseibeh's father served as mayor of East Jerusalem and later as ambassador to England during the Jordanian protectorate before the Six Day War of 1967. Sari Nusseibeh grew up watching loss after loss: his mother's family's ...

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