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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Al-Quds President speaks at Brandeis as part of Meet the Author series

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: News

Al-Quds University President and former Palestinian National Authority representative Sari Nusseibeh visited Brandeis on Thursday to discuss his book Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life.

The event, which was attended by approximately 80 people and moderated by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life director Dan Terris, lasted just over one hour.

Over the past 12 years or so Ive come to regard as a friend and as a partner and a friend to Brandeis, said Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, PhD 72 during his introduction, describing Nusseibeh as a very courageous person with very strong views and very strong opinions on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Reinharz added that Nusseibeh recognized the need to create peace, and wagged his finger at many Arab countries who did not share this view. Reinharz also said Nusseibeh was the only person in the Arab world who stood up and spoke out against the proposed boycott against Israeli academics.

Reinharz ended his introduction by saying Nusseibehs book was something worth reading, even if you dont agree with all of it it is honest, straightforward and very funny in places. Terris agreed, calling Nusseibehs book one of the most important books to come out about the region in a long time.

Nusseibeh explained that his book was based on when I was an undergraduate, a lot of my time was spent trying to write poetry or novels or novellas. On thing I did was try my hand at writing a fairy tale about a girl who prayed to go to Jerusalem, and was transported there by an angel, a fable which later found his way to his book. Still, Nusseibeh said, its not my field, writing, so anything thats good about the style, thats my colleague [and co-author, Anthony] David.

He told the audience of a story where his family, which was living in Abu Dis, went to a nearby pool in Jerusalem. Swimming in the pool, Nusseibeh decided that just like this sort of equal rights in an existing structure would benefit both peoples. Why push away an Israeli structurewhy not go in that structure, swim in that structure? He added though, that this was an unpopular view, both to the

Palestinians and the Israelis, of seeking equal rights in the existing structure.

Nusseibeh, when asked about whether or not his return to Palestine after his education in England was wise, he said its a question that very much in my mind if I had been stronger in my self-image I wouldnt have chosen to do something else.

He said that part of his reasoning was I was very lucky having been educated abroadI had the responsibility of giving back to my fellow Palestinians. I immersed myself in education Im not sure I made the right choice. Until this day, I think, shouldnt I set up a school, a primary school? Nusseibeh added that education remains the major tool for humans to grow its the greatest gift a person can receive, and its the greatest gift for a person to give.

Discussing the roles of religious identity in the conflict in the region, Nusseibeh said I look upon myself as an Arab, a Palestinian, a Jerusalemian, a Muslim all of this in a sense is good, but in another sense maybe limits my potential I might have been different. I think this is very much the trap people are being trapped, by the Jewish identity, if theyre from Israel, and the Palestinian identity if theyre from Palestine.

When Terris asked Nusseibeh about the influence of his father, the politician Anwar Nusseibeh, Sari said that he was a very independent-minded personin my opinion, he embodied the values Ive grown up to value and respect. Furthermore, Nusseibeh said, his father advocated the construction of a Palestinian university. He added that he embraced his Arabness and his religion, but on the other hand, he had a deep commitment to humanity and goodwill. He represented what a civilized person would look like, would be like I believe a lot of what I have I have because of him.

Responding to a question by Jason Gray 10, who asked him to touch upon the increasing trend of Islamic fundamentalism emphasized in the media, Nusseibeh responded that theres a lot of radicalization in Palestinian society, as well as in Israeli society maybe in American society. He attributed this to certain conditions in society, and if hope can be brought to bear, if there is a hope for a better future, I think people will go for a life that is not radical.

When Gabriela Lupatkin 09, who participated in a joint Brandeis-Al-Quds delegation last summer, asked how to solve the conflict before it starts with children, Nusseibeh said its like the chicken and egg problem, because on the one hand, you have to address the children, but on the other hand, theres you;

how do you know youre the right one to deal with these children? He added that your feeling of meeting Palestinians who werent cognizant of the Holocaust was important [and that] things happen, but you have to work to make them happen.

Yael Mazor 08 asked Nusseibeh to elaborate, asking him what he would like to see at primary school education. Ideally, Id think of a space where the child is allowed to develop freely and express themselves, he said. This is connected with criticism, and self-criticismthe ability to analyze and the ability not only to see oneself, but to see others. Nusseibeh added that I dont feel very religious, I feel anti-religious. I dont think Id insert religious teachingsI feel that someone should encourage the belief in human values. One should be critical of religious beliefs and develop the ability to love.