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Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life Paperback – April 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Philosophy professor and political leader Nusseibeh, as the Oxford and Harvard-educated descendant of an ancient and influential Jerusalem family, draws on deep roots in his account of a dramatically displaced life. That's one reason why, despite his relative privilege, his autobiography dovetails persuasively with the larger story of Palestinian dispossession and struggle in the 20th century. Nusseibeh, as a former PLO representative, also has the vantage of a political insider. Equally instructive are his differences from his fellow Palestinians, many of whom he encountered as his students in the classrooms and cafes at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and later as president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem. These interactions, among others, give shape to the story of this curious but reticent loner's immersion into national politics, which is overshadowed by the memory of his father (a fiercely independent former Jordanian minister and governor of Jerusalem). In relating the Palestinian perspective on the expulsions, expropriations and deprivations during and after the wars of 1948, 1967 and beyond, Nusseibeh convincingly interweaves personal experience and tectonic historical shifts, while charting his own political evolution and eventual and resolute insistence on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Sari Nusseibeh is the ultimate insider, and he draws on that vast experience to shed light on the prospects for peace in the Middle East. He patiently examines complex issues and offers enough nuances to please readers who want to understand the ongoing conflict on a deeper level. The author's relatively evenhanded stance (despite a less-than-flattering portrayal of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as some contested historical details) distinguishes Once Upon a Country from other, more agenda-driven efforts, as does its call for nonviolent resolution and compromise. Nusseibeh, echoing Voltaire's notion that "the wisest course of action is surely to tend to your own garden," casts a critical eye on both sides. The result is "a deeply admirable book by a deeply admirable man" (New York Times Book Review).

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427108
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Written by Palestinian peace activist Sari Nusseibeh, this book is an immensely readable personal and political memoir - an account of a life lived in a "broken and violated land." Descendant of a patrician family in Jerusalem, tracing its history back to the seventh century, the author was educated in England and, following in his father's footsteps, devoted his years to advocating reason and nonviolence in the resolution of Arab-Israeli conflicts. A student and later a professor of philosophy, he first believed that Arabs and Israelis could live together as citizens of a single nation. Then, after the 1967 war, he came to the conclusion that a two-nation solution was in the best interests of both peoples.

Over the years, in his account, he has watched both of those objectives resisted and undermined by the objectives of those with political power - the Israelis through a campaign of seizing territory in the West Bank for Jewish settlements, and the PLO by demanding the return of all occupied lands. Meanwhile, moderates such as himself are cast as "dangerous," and his efforts at building bridges between Arabs and Jews are often frustrated. When the intifada of the 1980s flares up, Nusseibeh plays a strategic role in secretly writing and publishing materials that provide it with a voice and direction, channeling the energy of street demonstrations away from violence. And he is instrumental in building a nation-building organization to set the stage for Arafat's return from exile in Tunis to govern the West Bank and Gaza. At the same time, he is reaching out to peace activists among Israelis, even while the second intifada surges to life and Arab extremists begin to have a deadly impact with suicide bombs.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By H. S. Shapiro on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Nusseibeh's book allows us to break through the stereotypes of the Palestininan struggle and see behind the images the humanity of a people struggling for an end to the Israeli occupation of their land. Far from the images of unbridgeable fanaticism, Nuseibeh offers us another view of people prepared to compromise in order to ensure an end to this bitter conflict. His represents the only way forward in this conflict--acceptance of two states--viable and contiguous in their territories; a shared Jerusalem; and a reasonable solution to the problem of refugees that involves acknowledgement of loss and compensation. I urge people to read this book for its honest recognition of the shortcomings of Palestinian politics and its generous and rational understanding of the needs and pain of two peoples.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By AA on August 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a truly important book for anyone wishing to understand fully the Arab / Palestinian - Israeli conflict. It sheds tremendous light on very important events, thus far not fully presented from the Palestinian side, especially that of the non rejectionist Palestinian camp. Sari Nusseibeh is a truly visionary man with tremendous courage and is a highly gifted activist and indeed very clever politician despite his own denials.

I have thoroughly enjoyed, and was often moved by, the first half of the book which dealt with the history of Nusseibeh's family and contained his even handed description of the events leading to 1948 and all the way through the 1967 war and his subsequent return to live in Palestine with his British wife. Nusseibeh's portrayal of the lives of the Palestinians between the wars of 1948 and 1967 was very helpful.

In the second half of the book Nusseibeh hammers in, over and over again, on the tacit unspoken alliance of the extremists on both sides and shows how Israel supported the creation of Hamas as a counter weight to the Fateh and PLO. He coherently and very persuasively presents the thought process that he went through to move from the one state solution to the two state solution and demonstrates very effectively the threats that prolonging the conflict would cause to it.

Nusseibeh was often right at the center of things or at least presents himself as such; we see him as a leading figure in standing up to the Israelis and to the Islamists, we see him as the key engine behind the first intefada, or uprising, and we see him winning the respect and approval of Yasir Arafat. In this, second, half, this book moves from being a truly exceptional account of the personal and family history more into an aggrandizing politician's memoir.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joey L. on August 1, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a memoir written by a professor of philosophy who is also the current president of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

After getting through his father's history in the early chapters, University professor Sari Nusseibeh realizes the central problem between the Israeli and Palestinian coexistence: neither sides understanding of the other side. It takes him meeting Israeli students at college, and flying on an Israeli ariline, and teaching at Hebrew University before he begins to see the similarities between the two. And thats where he evolves his ideas about peace.

A central concept of his is that both sides are allies, NOT enemies. He even goes as far to say that the two are more like allies than the united states/israel and palestinians/arab states are allies.

Unfortunately as the occupation of the west bank and gaza continues throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, he sees a different kind of arab majority emerging from the areas, that is bent on the concept of eradicating the Jew, instead of working with. As his story progresses we see how the author gets involved in politics and attempts to keep the two state solution as a viable option, while trying to maintain his own logical understanding of what was transpiring.

But as we come to the 2000s, Hamas gains most of the support of the palestinians, wins elections and violence ensues.

The author is not hopeless. He does speak of trying to advocate a peaceful two-state solution by teaming up with Israelis in the Peace Now movement and in the government, to get the peace that both sides seek. He writes up a two state solution, that would allow Palestinians to have the borders from pre-1967, and allows palestinian refugees to return to palestinian areas, and Jews to jewish areas.
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