My latest non-fiction book which I started this week is one that dives into a region of the world that has held my attention since I was a teenager. After learning of the news from Plains, Georgia about President Jimmy Carter starting hospice and given the powerful role he played with the Camp David Peace Accords, places Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon A Country into a fitting time frame. A bittersweet one, for sure.
A few weeks ago, I read Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright. As I concluded that stupendous narrative which placed so many interesting and compelling spokes into the larger wheel of the drama that was the brainchild of Carter, I was mindful of needing to read Nusseibeh’s story that has been heralded as a necessity if wishing to feel and better understand the plight of Palestinians.
I recall watching the historic journey of Egyptian President Sadat to Israel and listening to his speech in the Knesset and months later staying home to watch the handshake and signing of the famed peace accords at the White House. All the drama that played out between leaders with deep political uncertainties in their own countries and much deeper historical animosities made what occurred at Camp David worthy of more understanding on my part. Even decades later.
I have always found most troubling the lack of awareness from the public about what happened to entire Palestinian villages and farms, and families in 1947 and 1948. Between the United Nations voting and the time for the British mandate to end, we read the words of the author’s father, a judge and highly educated man, who wrote a 60,000-word personal account in 1949. Of those expelled, he writes the lost villages “mean more than red dots on the map. They mean the warm hearths and proud homes of an old established community. The hearth has turned to ashes and homes ground to dust and the life once throbbed within them throbs no more.” The entire story is compelling and grounded with the candor of history and facts to guide his readers onward.
Sari does not allow for the misjudgments and harsh behavior from either side of the ancient hatred to have free rein. There is no latitude given for the misdeeds and empty leadership that too often has been the source for even more glaring and consequential examples of hate and bloodshed.
History oozes from the pages and for one such as myself, this is why lights in our home are on into the morning hours. Here is the story of a man who descended from one of the tribal leaders who accompanied Muhammad on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the seventh century as he heads to Medina. This is the family with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The richness of the ages rolls along as Nusseibeh stresses the complexities of the people, history, religion, and social tensions that create a backstory to the headlines. Sadly, it is only the headlines that most people today care about or know about. Not enough newspaper readers or viewers of BBC news.
This is why the book, Once Upon A Country is so needed and, in light of recent events most relevant. For those who know, as I do, that a two-state solution is a requirement for the region, the book offers more history than hope, given the nature of conservative Israeli leaders. I trust that those who read this post will find the book at their local bookstore or on Amazon, as I did. It will add many perspectives, as most who pick up the read already will likely have a good foundation of the region’s background. It will make Zionists squirm, but thoughtful people (like many who reside in Israel and know the trajectory of their regional affairs and governing policies are flawed morally and fiscally) will find this book time well spent.