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Conor Gearty


Sari Nusseibeh (with Anthony David) (London: Halban, 2009 (2nd edn) 534 pp ISBN 9781905559145This is the autobiography of an academic whose enthralling story is about far more than merely himself. Sari Nusseibeh is a philosopher who is President of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.  His family have been in that city for well over a thousand years – there are stories here about the (female) ancestor who was a first follower of the Prophet and the 7th century relative who was installed by Caliph Omar as the first Moslem high judge of Jerusalem and given custody of the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This key has mattered a lot to the Nusseibehs; give or take the occasional Crusade, they have held it through the centuries, the Moslem doorkeeper to the fighting Christians on the site of Christ’s crucifixion.   Nusseibeh is hilarious on this as he is on so much else in the first half of the book.  Dominating these early pages is his extraordinary father: lawyer; tennis player of renown; Cambridge graduate; fighter for the Palestinians (he was shot in the 1948 war and lost a leg); and then (during the Jordanian hegemony that followed that national catastrophe) governor of Jerusalem, Jordan’s Ministry of Defence and her Ambassador to the United Kingdom. His funeral in 1986 ‘turned into the largest political demonstration in Jerusalem since the occupation’ – the ‘crowd like water from a fire hose aimed into a maze’.

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