07/12/2007 - Few Palestinian families have deeper roots in Jerusalem than Sari Nusseibeh's. In the 7th century, immediately after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the caliph Omar the Great entrusted one of Nusseibeh's ancestors with the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. From childhood onward, Nusseibeh, who was educated as a philosopher at Oxford and Harvard universities, couldn't avoid Middle Eastern history, Palestinian politics or observing the influence of religion on society.
After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nusseibeh studied Hebrew, worked on a kibbutz and became a student of both Israeli and Palestinian society. As a philosophy professor, he began his career at a struggling West Bank university where divisions among the teachers and students mirrored tensions within the larger society over how best to respond to Israel's control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He worked largely underground during the first Palestinian uprising against Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s to try to fashion achievable political goals. An increasingly public figure, he was arrested by Israel in 1991 and released after three months.
Nusseibeh was the chief representative for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Jerusalem in 2001 and 2002. For more than two decades, he has advocated coexistence over violence. President of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem for the last 10 years, he is the author of a recently published memoir, Once Upon a Country (2007).
View the interview transcript on the Pew Research Center Web site.