Sari Nusseibeh

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Sari Nusseibeh at 2012 Leipzig Book Fair

Sari Nusseibeh (Arabic: سري نسيبة‎) (born in 1949) 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 that city. He was born in Damascus, Syria, and raised in Jerusalem.

Family background[edit]

The Nusseibeh boast of a 1,300 year presence in Jerusalem, being descended from Ubayda ibn as-Samit, the brother of Nusaybah bint Ka'ab, a female warrior from the Banu Khazraj of Arabia, and one of the four women leaders of the 14 tribes of early Islam. Ubada, a companion of Umar ibn al-Khattab, was appointed the first Muslim high judge of Jerusalem after its conquest in 638 C.E.,together with an obligation to keep the Holy Rock, now the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount, clean. The family retained an exclusive right to the keys down to the Ottoman period, when the Joudeh family obtained a warrant to share possession. To this day, the Nusseibeh, on receiving the keys from a member of the Joudeh clan, turn them over to the warden of the Church around dawn every day.[1] Nusseibeh's grandfather successively married into three different Palestinian families of notables, the Shihabi, noted for their scholarship; the Darwish of the powerful al-Husayni clan; and to the Nashashibi, and thus, in Nusseibeh's words:'in a matter of a few years. . managed to stitch together four ancient Jerusalem families, two of which were bitter rivals'.[2]


Nusseibeh was born in Damascus, Syria, to the politician Anwar Nusseibeh who was a distinguished statesman, prominent in Palestinian and (after 1948) Palestinian-Jordanian politics and diplomacy, and Nuzha Al-Ghussein, who descended from Palestine's wealthy landed aristocracy and is the daughter of Palestinian political leader Yaqub al-Ghusayn. Nusseibeh studied philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford, and has a Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy, from Harvard University (1978).[3]

He returned to the West Bank in 1978 to teach at Birzeit University (where he remained as Professor of Philosophy until the University was closed from 1988 to 1990 during the First Intifada). At the same time, he taught classes in Islamic philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Through the early 1980s, he helped to organize the teachers' union at Birzeit, and served three terms as president of the union of faculty and staff there. Nusseibeh is also co-founder of the Federation of Employees in the Education Sector for the entire West Bank.

The Nusseibeh family are trustees, according to tradition, for opening and closing the Gate of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Nusseibeh is married to Lucy, born in Great Britain, and they have four children, Jamal, Absal, Buraq and Nuzha.[4]

Political activism[edit]

Sari Nusseibeh has long been viewed as a Palestinian moderate. In July 1987, Nusseibeh and Faisal Husseini met with Moshe Amirav, a member of Israel's Likud Party becoming the first prominent Palestinians to meet with a member of the Israeli right. Amirav was testing the waters for a group close to then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on the possibility of making a historic pact with the PLO and Fatah.[5]

In a 2002 Al-Jazeera interview, Nussbeibeh referred to Umm Nidal, the mother of three sons who carried out suicide attacks on Israeli citizens with their mother's approval. Nussbeibeh said "When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the hadith stating that 'Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.' All respect is due to this mother, it is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a Jihad fighter on this land."[6]

The First Intifada[edit]

Nusseibeh was also an important leader during the First Intifada, authoring the Palestinian Declaration of Principles[7] and working to strengthen the Fatah movement in the West Bank; Nusseibeh helped to author the "inside" Palestinians' declaration of independence issued in the first intifada, and to create the 200 political committees and 28 technical committees that were intended to as an embryonic infrastructure for a future Palestinian administration.

First Gulf War[edit]

Following the firing of Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, Nusseibeh worked with Israeli Peace Now on a common approach to condemn the killing of civilians in the war. But he was arrested and placed under administrative detention on 29 January 1991, effectively accused of being an Iraqi agent.[8] (He had discussed Scud attacks on Tel Aviv with the Iraqi Ambassador at Tunis, which the Israelis alleged made him a spotter for missile attacks). The arrest was then questioned by British and American officials, and the U.S. administration urged that he should either be charged or else the suspicion would be that the arrest was political. He was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[9] Palestinians saw the arrest as a political warning that Israel did not intend to negotiate with any Palestinian leader, no matter how moderate. For example, Professor Saeb Erekat of An-Najah University said: "This is a message to us Palestinian moderates. The message is, 'You can forget about negotiations after the war because we are going to make sure there is no one to talk to' ". He was released without charge shortly after the end of the war, after 90 days of imprisonment in Ramle Prison.

Peace initiatives[edit]

Nusseibeh was not politically active during much of the Oslo Peace Process but was appointed as the PLO Representative in Jerusalem in 2001.[citation needed] During this period Nusseibeh began to strongly suggest that Palestinians give up their Right of Return in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[10] A number of Palestinian organizations have strongly condemned his views on this issue.[11]

Nusseibeh criticised the militarization of the intifada in January 2002 and called for the renunciation of suicide bombings and the establishment of Palestine as a demilitarized state: "A Palestinian state should be demilitarized - not because that's what Israel demands, but in our own interest."[citation needed]

In 2002 Sari Nusseibeh and former Shin Bet director, Ami Ayalon published the The People's Voice, an Israeli-Palestinian civil initiative that aims to advance the process of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and a draft peace agreement that called for a Palestinian state based on Israel's 1967 borders and for a compromise on the Palestinian Right of Return. The People's Voice Initiative was officially launched on June 25, 2003.

In 2002, Yasser Arafat deposed Nusseibeh as the PLO's representative in East Jerusalem, a position he assumed after the sudden death of Faisal Husseini.[12]

In 2008, Nusseibeh said that the quest for the two-state solution was floundering. He called on Palestinians to start a debate on the idea of a one-state solution.[13]

In 2008, in an open online poll, Nusseibeh was voted the 24th most influential intellectual in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States).[14]


Nusseibeh is head and founder of the Palestinian Consultancy Group, co-founder and member of several Palestinian institutions including the Jerusalem Friends of the Sick Society, the Federation of Employees in the Education Sector in the West Bank, the Arab Council for Public Affairs, the Committee Confronting the Iron Fist, and the Jerusalem Arab Council. He is also on the advisory board of The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University.[15]

Internationally, Nusseibeh is a member of the McGill Middle East Program's Executive and Management Committees. In November 2007, following the publication of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, he traveled to Montreal, Canada, to lecture on the MMEP and his vision of peace.

See also[edit]



  • Nusseibeh, Sari (24 September 2001). "What next?". Haaretz. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  • John Wallach and Janet Wallach, The New Palestinians: The Emerging Generation Of Leaders(Prima publishing, 1992) ISBN 1-55958-215-4
  • Sylvia Murphy, Candy's Children (Novel) partially set in a remembered Palestine. (S.A.Greenland Imprint, 2007) ISBN 978-0-9550512-1-0

Published writings[edit]


  • No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Solution of the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict, New York: Hill & Wang, 1991
  • Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, written with Anthony David; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, London: Halban Publishers, 2007 ISBN 978-1-905559-05-3
  • Palestine: A State is Born (Selections of Newspapers/Magazines articles between 1987-1990 ) Palestine Information Office :The Hague, 1990.
  • What Is a Palestinian State Worth?. Harvard University Press. 2011. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-674-04873-7. 

Other works[edit]

  • A Formula for Narrative Selection: A Commentary on Writing the Arab- Israeli Conflict, Perspectives on Politics, Vol 3/No1 (March,2005)
  • The Limit Of Reason (or Why Dignity is not Negotiable), APA Newsleters, (Vo.04, Number1), 2004.
  • Singularidad y pluralidad en la identidad: el caso del prisionero palestino, La Pluralidad y sus atributos (Fundacion Duques de Soria) 2002.
  • Personal and National Identity: A Tale of Two Wills. Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, ed. Tomas Kapitan, (Armonk, N.Y., and London: Sharpe, N.E.) 1997.
  • Epistemology, The Routledge History of Islamic Philosophy, ed. Oliver Leaman.( London: Routledge, Kegan and Paul), 1995.
  • Al-Hurriyyah Bayn Alhadd Wa’l Mutlaq (Absolute and Restricted Freedom). London: Al-Saqi, 1995.
  • Al-Hizb al-Siyasi Wa’l dimoqratiyyah (Political Parties and Democracy). In Azmat al-hizb al-Siyasi al-Falastini.( Ramallah: Muwatin) 1996
  • Can Wars be Just? in But Was It Just? Reflections on the Morality of the Gulf War, with Jean Elshtaine, et al. (New York: Doubleday) 1992.
  • Review of F. Zimmermann’s Al-Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione, History and Philosophy of Logic, 13 (1992), 115-132.
  • Al-Aql Al Qudsi: Avicenna’s Subjective Theory of Knowledge. Studia Islamica (1989), 39-54.
  • Selections (including translations) from the Holy Qur'an. In Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., 1984.
  • Review of Islamic Life and Thought, by S. A. Nasr.( TLS) March 1982:267.
  • Masharif al-Mantiq (Introductory Symbolic Logic). (Jerusalem: Arab Studies Society) 1982.
  • On Subatomic Particles and Scientific Posits, with Basheer El-Issa. (Birzeit Journal of Chemistry) 1981.
  • Avicenna : Medicine and Scepticism. Koroth Vol.8, No 1- 2 (1981): 9-20.
  • Quelques figures et themes de la Philosophie Islamique. Review in Asian and African Studies 14 (1980), 207-209.
  • Herbert Marcuse wa’l metamarxiyyah.” Al-Jadid, July 1

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