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Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
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Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  453 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

A teacher, a scholar, a philosopher, and an eyewitness to history, Sari Nusseibeh is one of our most urgent and articulate authorities on the conflict in the Middle East. From his time teaching side by side with Israelis at the Hebrew University through his appointment by Yasir Arafat to administer the Arab Jerusalem, he has h

Paperback, 584 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Picador (first published March 29th 2007)
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Mar 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had high hopes for this book, but was somewhat disappointed. I like Nusseibeh, and it clear from the book that he has worked tirelessly to try to find a peaceful resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians. I admire him for that and for keeping hope in a situation that appears hopeless. The problem is that his book just isn't very good. It is disjointed and choppy. He often doesn't give enough background or information to help someone who does not live in those countries understand what h ...more
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
His descriptions of his childhood in pre 1967 Jerusalem were interesting as a period piece, and the guy's obviously a talented writer with stories to tell. I was unimpressed, however, with his historical analyses. He omits anything that reflects badly on the Palestinians, who are always just, and the Israelis are always in the wrong.

His view of Abu Jihad was laughable and either intellectually dishonest or overly naive. He claims Abu Jihad was a gentleman and basically never inflicted harm on a
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I feel like this book has done more to help me understand the heart of the issues in the Holy Land than anything else I have been exposed to. He is uniquely involved, and is indeed a very important voice. On the logical level of debate, his ideas ring true in my ears. On the philosophical level of the human experience, his arguments resonate with me as well. If you have any interest in the human experience at all, you really must read this book. Thank you to my Goodreads friend, Elisa, for recom ...more
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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, ...more
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very useful book for Americans who want to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Palestinian eyes. Nusseibeh is not perhaps your typical Palestinian activist--he fully acknowledges the right of Israel to exist, is in favor of Western-style democratic institutions, and is forcefully and consistently anti-violence. He describes himself as the dreamy academic type (he is a professor of philosophy in Jerusalem) but has been drawn into Palestinian politics since early adulthood. His father w ...more
Sarah Lameche
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: palestine
This is the first book about Palestine that really delves into the reasons as to why certain groups came into power. Sari certainly doesn't shy away from the truth and it makes a refreshing change to read about where BOTH sides made mistakes. Many of the books I have read regarding Palestine are written about the effect the occupation has had on that person and sometimes their family too. This book is rather different in that though his family life is touched on, it's more about the politics of ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Mar 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east, islam
It's my first book on the struggle for Palestine and boy was I happy with my decision. Sari has really demonstrated a dignified and courageous approach to freedom struggle. I particularly enjoyed his analogies of the most acrimonious dispute in the world. I also gained a great understanding of the regional politics between Israeli, Hamas and Fatah. If only there were more statesmen like Sari the Arab world would be so much better. I found the book the world very engaging and deeply insightful, f ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sari presents a frank account of his life in Palestine, his philosophy, his role as an activist and politician. Despite the breakdown in peace talks over and over again, he remains ever hopeful that Israel and Palestine will achieve a two state resolution. What is amazing is the way Sari challenges fellow Palestinians to think differently. Palestine certainly could do with more thinkers like him.
Fazackerly Toast
a really useful informative educational book, especially for an ignoramus like me, who knows so little about the Palestinian situation and how it got to the state it is in today. I marvel at Nusseibeh, his courage, integrity, sanity, determination and patience.
Catherine Richmond
When the Palestinians opened a casino, it clicked: I know this story. It's a story of Europeans claiming a new place, disregarding property rights of current residents, marginalizing and dehumanizing the residents until violence erupted into war. It's the story of Native Americans.

The Nusseibeh family arrived in Palestine in 638 AD. The family tree includes judges, mayors, orange-grove owners, and the keepers of the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The author has a front-row seat on the
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, memoir
It's very interesting and informative to read a book written from the Palestinian point of view. It's quite detailed in some areas, some things seems sort of rushed through, but that's also true quite a few books written from an Israeli point of view. I recommend it for a slightly more balanced perspective, especially in these times of unilateral decrees by Trump concerning the future of Jerusalem, a city revered by both sides of this quarrel.
Linda Gibboney
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, captivating. Sad that the memoire starts in 1948 and 69 years later things are still in turmoil. Man's inhumanity to man!
georgia bookblast
The political memoir of a Palestinian Professor of Philosophy and former President of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.

Reviewed on The BookBlast® Diary 2017
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Inspiring and tragic in many ways.
Andrew Rosner
I read this book from my perspective as a supporter of Israel, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Nusseibeh establishes himself as a decent and thoughtful observer of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. On the whole, I'd say it's a relatively balanced view, although his recollection of specific incidents should be buttressed by further reading for the curious. For example, his account of the 1967 war is subtly flawed. He writes that Egypt's blockade of the Straits of Tiran "was for Israel, an act of ...more
Kathy Kattenburg
This is a deeply moving and humane book by a deeply humane man. Sari Nusseibeh wrote this memoir of his life -- born in exile in 1949, one year after the establishment of the Jewish state -- as a professor and a political activist, but most important as a humanist, who never, ever loses his faith in the belief that Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, are natural allies who have much more in common than not. Peace will come when both sides give up violence -- which both Israel and Hamas cy ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it was the first non-fiction book I read in a while and I really enjoyed holding the hardcopy book and reading more about the history of the region from a source with so much memory of the events.

some of the passages that struck me:

"Freedom is not some innate quality stamped on our foreheads like a product bar code; nor is it something external like a particular passport or the right amount of money on the bank. Freedom is an expression of the will, and the amount you have of it, is in direct pr
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable book. The collaborated autobiography of a Palestinian Arab born around 1949 whose family have been aristocrats of Jerusalem for 1300 years. Sari is very much a moderate and with Oxford and Harvard degrees exposes the extremists on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as being the problem in the way of a settlement. He sees two independent states, each with capitals in Jerusalem, as inevitable and the hardliners have delayed this process by twenty years. The Palesti ...more
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 ot

Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought Nusseibeh's perspective was fascinating and insightful, but I really objected to his re-legitimation of the prison industrial complex in several different places, but especially in his reflection from within an Israeli prison that "'Prison is not for us... It is for thieves and murderers and drug addicts and smugglers, just not for the honest student and the businessman, the father and mother whose only crime is to fight for their freedom.'" (334)

One of Nusseibeh's points that I apprec
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
OK, next is the Israeli writer Amos Oz, mentioned many times by Nusseibeh. I hope I've chosen well to start with his autobiography, to give the other side equal time.
I did walk this am, but couldn't pry myself away from this history of the Arab world the rest of the day, particularly his immediate family's history in London/Jordan/Jerusalem. And worthy of mention, this book runs over 500 pages. I'm a fan of the Israeli's harsh response to attack. But, now I've seen that often they provoke that
Jan 14, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
Recommended by my friend Terra, whose opinion I trust in such matters. She calls it an "unbiased look at Palestine and Israel. It has been criticized by both sides as being to lenient, which is a mark of balance."

For some reason, I'm going through this at a glacial pace. There's something about the writing... is un-engaging a word? Can a narrative be *too* balanced? He's relentlessly chronological... maybe it will move more quickly when we get to his imprisonment.

I'm most intrigued by his discus
James Hansee
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I met one of the author's cousins who recommended this book to me and I'm glad he did. Sari Nusseibeh is a Palestinian intellectual who has been involved in every effort to negotiate a peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The book is a amazing account of the atrocities of both Israelis and Palestinians from a man who has consistently sought a nonviolent solution. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the challenges, issues and history of the struggle in th ...more
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gives you a window into the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which is rarely seen--the reality that there are individuals on both sides who desire peace and who are willing to negotiate, and who realize that humility, communication and compromise are necessary to solve conflict. The book also discusses how binaries and barriers make people feel psychologically safe, while creating an incredibly caustic environment. The book is heavy w/ names and historic details and it is philosophical by ...more
This book is brilliantly written by someone who possess deep emotion towards palestine and in the same time, making balance and fair judgment to every single situation that even confronted palestine and israel. The enlightenment on the crucial event like oslo and unfortunate incident like 6 days war is amazing. Reading via sari's eyes and his dad unpublished memoir making me grateful for the freedom that i had compared to my brothers and sisters in palestine who suffered so much more. 500 pages ...more
Sandra D
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, middle-east
Wow, that was stunning. Of everything I've ever read about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this book brought the complexities and nuances of the situation into clearest focus for me.

Dr. Nusseibeh tells the story of his life and misadventures in peacemaking with grace and gentle humor, beginning with the Palestine of his and his parents' youth and ending rather abruptly with the building of the "Apartheid Wall." The son of a Palestinian diplomat, he is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard, professo
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
I was so refreshing to read a book that represents both sides of an issue, as equally as possible.
It was also so good to read about the Palestians in a balanced and understanding way. Especially where some of the extremism comes from.
And yes even with the author trying to explain and bring a balanced view of the Isrealis as well.
This is a book worth reading to try have issues presented from both sides of the Isreali and Palestinian viewpoints.
I am reading another book on also an impartial author
Ian Bradbury
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, although it took me a while to read. It held me throughout though, and is really well written and easy to absorb. Sari provides a great narrative of the Palestinian past and present, although very recent events of the last few years are not covered. I thought I already had a good understanding but Sari opened up a whole new dimension to the situation. Although Sari clearly has a Palestinian perspective on the troubles with Israel, he is also very much writing from a perspectiv ...more
After hearing only that Palestinians are terrorist animals, or that they are innocent victims of apartheid oppression, it was refreshing to find this book that offers a more balanced, complex and realistic perspective. The author is a respected moderate, who worked for years to find a peaceful two-state solution. I was saddened to see how his efforts to pursue the reasonable course were undermined by extremists on both sides of this conflict.

Next on my list: The Shepherd's Granddaughter. I want
Sara Phelps
Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. It definitely made me feel ignorant, but that made me appreciate the experience of reading it. Hearing about the crisis in the middle east from a palestinian perspective was incredibly eye-opening and had a definite impact on my one-sided opinions. I have been on the look out for a similar book written from the other perspective; unfortunately, there are so many, I don't know which to choose. This book has made me want to learn more. That alo ...more
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Sari Nusseibeh (Arabic: سري نسيبة)is a Palestinian professor of philosophy and president of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Until December 2002 he was the representative of the Palestinian National Authority in Jerusalem.

Nusseibeh was born to the politician Anwar Nusseibeh who was a distinguished statesman, prominent in Palestinian and (after 1948) Palestinian-Jordanian politics and diplomacy
More about Sari Nusseibeh...

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“One day the Israelis may realize that the reason for the never-ending turmoil disrupting their lives has nothing to do with our opposition to the Jewish state but is rooted in the more mundane fact that human beings are not constituted to accept injustice.” 3 likes
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