Once upon a time, a Palestinian philosopher fell in love with an intelligent and charming English girl. Hoping to persuade her to return with him to his war-torn homeland, he wrote a fairy tale full of truth and hope and peace. Fortunately the girl love him, too, and wanted to share his world, because the fairy tale he created is still not finished – not the part about peace, anyway.
Sari Nusseibeh is the son of a former governor of Jerusalem and a descendent of a line that settled in Jerusalem over 1300 years ago. He is also one of those rare creatures who is both able and willing to view people as individuals rather than nationalities. In spite of his firsthand knowledge of political players and power brokers, Nusseibeh remains committed to the pursuit of a peaceful and united Middle East.
“Weren’t both sides of the conflict totally immersed in their own tragedies, each one oblivious to, or even antagonistic toward, the narrative of the other?” he asks. “Isn’t this inability to imagine the lives of the ‘other’ at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” Nusseibeh sums up the situation in this bit of musing. While it applies to every conflict, in this charming and candid memoir, he presents a complicated history of the violent quarrel between the two countries.
Having attended Oxford and Harvard, Nusseibeh is the founder and president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. Like his father, he is strongly in favor of a two-state resolution and continues to advocate for a peaceful and logical resolution to the madness that is destroying the region, life by life.
Nusseibeh, like most Palestinians, is proud of his heritage, but seems genuinely and innocently puzzled by the inability of Palestinians and Israelis to co-exist peacefully. “…the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews are natural allies,” he insists. Nusseibeh exhibits a tremendous respect and admiration for the Israelis, perhaps because he has taken the time to become acquainted with the people and not just the politics. During his time working on a kibbutz, he learned Hebrew and also a great respect for the “high caliber” of the people of Israel.
Presented with the charm of a fairy tale, Once Upon a Country unveils the harsh reality and inevitable chaos of a nation at war with its neighbors and, sometimes, with itself. It is also a call for peace and a prayer for unity that clarifies the centuries-old struggle for Jerusalem.