A Philosopher's Path Toward Peace

Sari Nusseibeh is the president of and a professor of philosophy at al-Quds University, the only Arab university in Jerusalem. He's written a memoir, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life; he's also co-author of the People's Voice Initiative, aimed at building grassroots support for a two-state solution in the Middle East. Until December 2002, he was the representative of the Palestinian National Authority in Jerusalem.

Finding Peace in the Middle East, and Within

Sari Nusseibeh

Palestinian philosophy professor and political activist Sari Nusseibeh draws on his 1,300 year-old roots in his account of a Palestinian life in Jerusalem. Rina Castelnuovo hide caption

itoggle caption Rina Castelnuovo

Palestinian philosopher and peace activist Sari Nusseibeh was born shortly after the creation of the State of Israel — or what many Palestinians call the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe."

Their fates have been entangled ever since.

As a child in divided Jerusalem, Nusseibeh gazed out his window at a shoot-to-kill zone just beyond his garden wall. That no man's land separated Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem from Jewish Israelis in West Jerusalem. Beyond that wall, thought the young Nusseibeh, was the enemy.

As an adult, however, Nusseibeh came to see Palestinians and Israelis not as enemies, but as natural allies. He's held fast to that view over decades spent as a teacher, a university president and an advocate of Palestinian sovereignty and negotiated peace with Israel.

Nusseibeh tells Jacki Lyden how he used his training as a philosopher to explore the value of freedom with his students, many of whom spent time in prison during the Palestinian Intifada of the late 1980s. His own role during that uprising was crucial, as he engaged in an underground media campaign to channel people's energy toward acts of sovereignty rather than acts of violence.

Through the clandestine publication of leaflets that appeared like clockwork each month, Nusseibeh and his collaborators directed the average Palestinian on how to disengage from the Israeli economy. Nusseibeh believed then and now that if people use their minds and wills, they can achieve anything, even political liberty.

"The prisoner," he writes, "does not receive inner freedom from his master, he seizes it without asking permission. Palestinians need to seize sovereignty."

Speaking with Jacki Lyden, Nusseibeh confesses he's a bit depressed at the moment. In his mind, the second Palestinian uprising was a disaster and the Palestinian leadership has failed to deliver the government for which its people fought.

But, he says, he thinks this depression is a passing feeling. His memoir, Once Upon A Country, is not about a country now consigned to the realm of fantasy. He says it's also about the country that can still be.

Books Featured In This Story

Once Upon a Country

A Palestinian Life

by Anthony David and Sari Nusseibeh

Hardcover, 542 pages | purchase

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