Monday, July 13, 2009

Once Upon a Country, A Palestinian Life

I finished reading Once Upon a Country by Sari Nusseibeh. I bought this book shortly after it was published in 2007. I had read a review in the Saturday CJ and it sounded interesting. I’m always interested in personal history across the context of larger world events. It resided on the stack by the door for two years. Every time I had the choice of reading it or something else, I chose something else; even reading the Pentagon book first. I started reading the first of the month because I knew it would be in my mind and not talking to anyone daily, I’d not be bringing up the latest few pages in conversation. When I started the book I had read the fly leaf and reviews on the back cover and expected something that was hate filled and of violent speech. That’s not what I found.

First is the history of a family that has lived in Israel for over 1300 years. A family that owned a lot of land and was with its extended members spread all over the area. The child Sari is educated in all the best schools in Israel and England and America. But that in itself is not remarkable. Many people are well educated and revert back to stupidity.

The Nusseibeh family are trustees, according to tradition, for the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This fact would in itself be a story, however it is presented as a fact and not discussed, except to reveal how dedicated his family has been to peace in Jerusalem.

The story was that there were many Arabs living in that country who wanted peace, and have wanted it for a long time. It seemed that every time when the moderate peace lovers made contact with people on the other side who also wanted peace, the powers in charge of each side did whatever they could to force the other to use violence and repression to keep them from making peace. People were arrested, assassinated, put out of their homes or marginalized in some way that took what influence they had away.

An example was Ariel Sharon who supported the unpopular cleric Sheik Yessin. This man was the root of Hamas. When the peace lovers wanted Yasser Arafat to endorse non-violence from Fatah, he would just let the impetus sit and not react either way creating a void and power hungry factions stepped in.

Arafat was a man who was paranoid. However he got power he lived most of his life working to keep it. He paid off each faction that would try to supplant him. Therefore he was standing on an ever moving platform whose purpose was to keep balance, and thereby no real progress was made because all effort was put into keeping balance and remaining in power.

Sharon was similar in that he supported the most violent faction and at the same time, continued to push building settlements thereby forcing the Arabs into walled off communities. The Israeli Wall is similar to the Berlin Wall and will ultimately be as ineffective. Sharon gained power from being a reactionary to Arab violence which he had stirred up in supporting violent factions. A circle without end and the same reaction to the same push.

All through the story, Sari refers to Palestine. The thing is that geographic area has been known by that name for over a thousand years. Arabs and Jews lived in the country peacefully for over a thousand years. The Crusades, the British Mandate and Zionism as well as other efforts to “capture” Jerusalem is what brought violence to the country.

I’ve thought from the beginning of my consciousness about Israel and Palestine, that the Israelites have treated the Arabs as someone they can victimize. The Arabs have spent their efforts to get power yet there is no effort to be cohesive in their debate with Israel. Why one base of power when you can have 15! Therefore nothing of a single purpose gets done. Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey try to get factions of Arab Palestinians to working for those countries, who after all will only use them as an arm of violence to kill the Jews in Israel.

Neither side of this conflict wants peace at least not the politicians. Sari's belief, and I believe he is right, knows the real power is with the people becoming the force that makes their governments make peace.

Sari is a philosopher in thought and action. He speaks of the will of the individual and how nothing is accomplished without that will. He is right.

I wonder if he will write another book as this one does not speak about the 2006 July war, nor his mother’s death or the country now that our administration has changed.