September 15, 2011
Sari Nusseibeh —
The Evolution of Change

We experience a vision of caution and hope planted in a long view of Arab and Palestinian history, culture, and time in Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh. His personal story is steeped in layers of identity and, as he says, living legend, which shape history in the making today.

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is president and professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. His books include Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life and What Is a Palestinian State Worth?

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Sari Nusseibeh

From the president's office at Al-Quds University, watch our uncut conversation with the Palestinian philosopher from March 15, 2011 in East Jerusalem.

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Sari Nusseibeh speaks with Krista Tippett in his office at Al-Quds University on March 15, 2011.

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I am a regular reader, but today's "The Evolution of Change With Sari Nusseibeh," was so thoughtful and well meaning it really touched my heart. I have lived in an Arab neighborhood for 29 years where I have made some close Muslim friends. I have Jewish in-laws and friends as well. No matter how difficult, there does need to "be a definitive end to the recent status quo" regarding a Two State Solution.

There are two translations of the Bible's message regarding peace on earth. One is "Peace on earth, good will to men." The other is "Peace on earth to men of good will." I subscribe to the latter! Let's pray for both sides to first recognize, and then listen to their men (and women) of good will.

Thank you for your column,

One of my favorite aspects of your show is the quiet conversations. When conversations become quieter, i.e. when we lower the emotional "voltage," it's easier to think clearly. Thank you for helping us to think clearly.

And thank you for your interview with Sari Nusseibeh. It got me thinking about recurrent patterns in history and the news, and a question occurred to me: Do religions start out as cooperative (speaking in terms of "us") but if politics gets mixed in they become competitive ("us" vs. "them")? For example: The Moral Majority, al Quaeda, the Taliban, the Manson Family? What about exceptions, such as the Dalai Lama?

Another wonderful show. And I was just thinking about exactly that topic on Saturday. I had friends in Liberia who were Lebanese. They told me so many things over the years about their world that were nowhere to be found in my education.

I have a rhetorical question. Every time I heard him reference a process of human maturation, I couldn't help but think, male human maturation.

I dredge through my mind and I can't think of a single current (30 yrs to the present) conflict, sustained or otherwise, that was begun by the force of will of a woman.

Do you think our national or global dialogue will ever address this fact? Do you think men will ever be held accountable for the things that they do to our world and the people who live on it?

I guess, I am getting a bit resentful that all of these horribly negative things that happened are grouped into 'human maturation' when only one half of the human race needs maturing.

I could not find where to express my opinion on the interview with Sari Nusseibeh so I hope I can write my opinion here. I listened to the interview with great interest but have a criticism to make about Ms Tippett's comment re Christ being a Palestinian, without mentioning that he was also a Jew. I don't think this tragic conflict will ever lead to peace until the Arab Palestinians and their supporters recognize that the Jewish people have ancient roots in Israel/Palestine too. I don't know why MS. Tippett avoided the obvious with her observation except I suspect her sympathies reside more with the Arab Palestinians than the Jewish. Such bias is at the root of this tragic situation because I gives one side more legitimacy than the other instead of recognizing that the Jewish people are returning home rather than arriving as colonizers. I quote from the transcript where Jesus is discussed: "Ms. Tippett: I mean, to read about him knowing tha t he's Palestinian.

I respect your show so much for opening your listeners minds to life from your guest's perspective. Recently I listened to your interview with Mr. Nusseibeh. This article reflects the Sari Nusseibeh that I have read and listened to for many years! As an Israelite this man scares me. Would you like to know why?
Thanks and keep up the good work of showing the power of tolerance, brotherhood and love.
Alan Fisher

The revisionist history of Sari Nusseibeh
10/10/2011 23:55

The Jewish state is a civil, democratic and pluralistic society, something that none of its Arab neighbors can stake a claim to.

Sari Nusseibeh has done it again. In an article titled “Why Israel Can’t be a ‘Jewish State,’” published on the Jewish New Year of all dates, the supposedly moderate president of al-Quds University goes to great lengths to explain why Jews, unlike any other nation on earth, are undeserving of statehood.

“[T]he idea of a ‘Jewish State’ is logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious, historical and social implications,” he wrote. “The implications of this term therefore need to be spelled out, and we are sure that once they are, most people – and most Israeli citizens, we trust – will not accept these implications.”

Not that this should have come as a surprise. For decades, Nusseibeh has tirelessly advanced the “one-state solution” – a euphemistic formula that proposes the replacement of Israel by a country, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority.

This advocacy of the destruction of a long-existing state, established by an internationally recognized act of national self-determination, has hardly dented Nusseibeh’s “moderate” credentials. That can be partly explained by the desperate yearning among Jews and their supporters worldwide for Palestinian and Arab peace partners. That desire dates back to the 1920s and the 1930s, despite countless setbacks and disillusionments. It is also a corollary of the narcissist and patronizing mesmerization among educated westerners with the “noble savage” in general, and the Westernized native in particular. With his posh Jerusalem high school education, his Oxford and Harvard degrees and impeccable western demeanor, Nusseibeh, like cultured Arabs and Muslims before him, represents the ultimate product of the “white man’s civilizing mission,” a contemporary replica of George Antonius, the Cambridge-educated Syrian political activist who was the toast of the British chattering classes in Palestine and beyond during the 1930s.

I was personally privy to this feting during a London meeting in the spring of 1989. I was then a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Jafee Center for Strategic Studies, and like many well intentioned Israelis at the time and since, we aspired to lay the ground for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation through secret talks with Palestinian interlocutors, including members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, then an outlawed organization in Israel. The group we met was headed by Faisal Husseini, then the PLO’s most senior official in the disputed territories, flanked by Nusseibeh and a few prominent London-based Palestinian academics.

The meeting was pleasant and informative enough, with the courteous British hosts going out of their way to keep their Palestinian guests sweet. Yet I was taken aback when Nusseibeh, the celebrated epitome of Palestinian moderation, turned out to be the most extreme member of the group. Dismissing out of hand the two-state solution – Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – he sang the praise of the “one-state paradigm,” demanding the incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza population into the Jewish state as full-fledged citizens, to be followed by Palestinian “refugees” from the neighboring Arab states and beyond.

In subsequent years, Nusseibeh would pay customary lip service to the two-state solution while consistently questioning the very legitimacy of the state with which he ostensibly wished to make peace. On a few occasions he even let the mask drop, unveiling his true agenda. In the late 1990s, for example, he told an old Oxford friend that “one day, in the near or further future, all this [Israel and Palestine] will be one binational state. It’s just a question of how we get there.”

In an April 2005 debate at Dartmouth College, Nusseibeh advocated the creation of a bi-national state as the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

“We will have spent 100 years killing and fighting each other, doing our best to avoid a one-state solution, and we will find ourselves in that exact situation in 40 or 50 years,” he argued.

IN A 2007 political memoir Nusseibeh missed no opportunity to denigrate and delegitimize the Jewish state through sharp, short, often subtle yet always false readings of history.

He does this in spades in his latest article. A Jewish state cannot exist, he argues, because “no state in the world is – or can be in practice – ethnically or religiously homogenous.” But the Jewish state that has existed for over 63 years has never been, nor aspired to be, totally homogenous: unlike the Palestinian Arab leadership which, since the early 1920s to date, has insisted on a Judenrein Palestine. Rather, Israel has been home to diverse religious and ethnic minorities accounting for nearly 20 percent of its total population.

As David Ben-Gurion told the leadership of his own (Mapai) party in 1947, the non-Jews in the Jewish state “will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is, the state will be their state as well.”

Nusseibeh claims that a Jewish state must by definition be either a theocracy or an apartheid state, and that its Jewish nature opens the door to legally reducing its substantial non-Jewish minority (whose very existence he previously denied) “to second-class citizens (or perhaps even stripping them of their citizenship and other rights).” This, too, flies in the face of Israel’s 63-year history, where Arabs have enjoyed full equality before the law, and have been endowed with the full spectrum of democratic rights – including the right to vote for and serve in all state institutions.

In fact, from the designation of Arabic as an official language, to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal resting days for their respective communities, to the granting of educational, cultural, judicial, and religious autonomy, Arabs in Israel enjoy more formal prerogatives than ethnic minorities anywhere in the democratic world.

Small wonder that whenever an Israeli politician proposes the inclusion of some frontier Israeli-Arab settlements in the future Palestinian state, as part of a land exchange within the framework of a peace agreement, the residents of these localities immediately voice their indignation. Moreover, recent surveys show that more Palestinians in east Jerusalem, who are entitled to Israeli social benefits and are free to travel across Israel’s pre-1967 borders, would rather become citizens of the Jewish state than citizens of a new Palestinian one.

But Nusseibeh is not someone to be bothered by the facts. His is the misconception, prevalent among Arabs and Muslims, that Jews are a religious community and not a nation deserving of statehood.

Hence, instead of insisting on being accepted for what it has been for 63 years, or what the UN partition resolution envisaged it to be, Israel should shed its Jewish identity and become “a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism” like many of its Arab neighbors which have Islam as their official religion “but grant equal civil rights to all citizens.”

This of course is the complete inverse of the truth.

The Jewish state is a civil, democratic and pluralistic society, something that none of its Arab neighbors can stake a claim to. On the contrary, precisely because Islam is enshrined as state religion throughout the Middle East, the non-Muslim minorities have been denied “equal civil rights” and have instead been reduced to the historic dhimmi status whereby they can at best enjoy certain religious freedoms in return for a distinctly inferior existence, and at worst suffer from systematic persecution and oppression.

And this is the “one-state paradigm” offered by Nusseibeh to Israel’s Jewish citizens.

As I listened to Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher, I couldn't help but be drawn into what he was discussing and following in his ideas. He had such a gentle and understanding voice that radiated warmth and acceptance. Starting out his interview with Krista Tippett, Sari talked about his crossing of No Man's Land. He states that as he watched other human beings of different religion cross into his country he felt the need to cross No Man's Land and watch himself from that side as well. Sari Nusseibeh mentioned that all human beings must go through this change in their life. The need to see themselves from a different perspective. I find this so interesting and true, for myself. There are many times that I would like to put myself in a different situation and see how my reactions and thoughts might have appeared to others.

An idea that stuck with me while I listened to this particular On being show is the idea that change occurs through generations. Sari Nusseibeh states that any of the change that we want to occur happens slowly over time and generations. This thought made me think of the philosopher Socrates and his belief in reincarnation. That perhaps we were reincarnated each time to keep these changes on course into the right direction. Krista also mentioned about how one of her acquaintances embraced all changes no matter how the outcome turns out because we should respect the sheer importance of what was occurring. Lastly at the conclusion of the interview Sari states briefly that its in human nature to make mistakes as we fight for change. This statement left a big impact on me because in many ways it is true and has a valid point. Socrates says that our soul becomes burdened with the needs that our body wants and through time we can make mistakes and lose our way. Part of finding the truth and making the right changes must occur when we have realized the mistakes that have taken place,

Both enthralling and captivating, this interview with Sari Nusseibeh by Kista Tippet allowed for me to stand away from my own religion and evaluate how I want my culture and religion to change for the better.