Jerusalem / Past Work

The Peacemaker

EAST JERUSALEM- As he sits inside a friend’s dark variety store just outside the Old City, people pass Isaac Nuseibeh, paying little attention to the silver-haired Palestinian man just inside.

Isaac Nuseibeh sitting outside a merchant store in East Jerusalem

Isaac Nuseibeh sitting outside a merchant store in East Jerusalem

Little do they know that Nuseibeh is a part of a family that has played an integral role in one of Jerusalem’s landmarks for centuries.

An agreement in 1191 between Sultan Saladin and King Richard the Lionheart gave the Nuseibeh family the daily responsibility of opening and locking the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Muslim family was given the role of doorkeeper to keep the different Christian denominations from fighting for control of the Church.

To this day Nuseibeh’s cousin opens the wooden doors to the place Christians believe to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, tomb and resurrection each morning and then closes them each night.

Isaac Nuseibeh himself was born Muslim, but is now a converted Christian.

Jerusalem is a mosaic of different cultures and religions. This collection of communities in one place truly makes Jerusalem a melting pot, but at times tensions between different groups boil over. The city has seen various times of peace and conflict, and Nuseibeh’s family has been here for most of it.

There are now renewed feelings of hope that a settlement can be reached between Palestinian and Israeli officials as negotiations continue with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acting as an intermediary. Nuseibeh, however, is not optimistic there will be much change.

Nuseibeh has a pessimistic attitude toward the peace talks after experiencing failed negotiation after failed negotiation. This might dissuade some from even speaking, but Nuseibeh has a lot to say.

“[Netanyahu and Abbas] don’t want peace. They are lying to the world,” he said in a raspy voice, the result of having his voicebox removed in treatment for throat cancer. A white patch on his neck covers the spot where he had the surgery.

Standing just a couple of hundred feet from Damascus Gate and the Old City, Nuseibeh said the current situation in the Middle East suits Israel too well for the political and economic leaders to truly want change.

As tourists walk by he explains how the Palestinian fight for independence has become an exotic attraction for foreigners. Though this makes him visibly upset, he does not believe this is the worst consequence of the conflict.

“There is no work!” he said. “Business is very bad [in East Jerusalem].”

Separate reports by the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics and the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics show that 27.5 percent of Palestinians are currently unemployed, compared to 6.9 percent of Israeli citizens. For young Palestinians the unemployment rates are even higher, 41 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds and 31 percent of those aged 25 to 29 are without jobs.

Nuseibeh said this makes many Palestinians feel like second-class people. His children were forced to move out of the country to find work that pays well.

“My children live in London now. Why? Because there is no work here. I want to see them, but they could not find work,” he said.

Nuseibeh is angry that very little has changed after years and years of conflict and he just wants to live an ordinary life. He longs for the time when Arabs and Jews were able to live together peacefully without feelings of resentment toward one another.

“I want to see people love each other and care about each other. You don’t see it anymore,” Nuseibeh said. “Twenty or thirty years ago we cared, now it’s all about money.”

Nuseibeh never uttered a complaint despite the many hardships he encountered throughout his life. The longing for change was evident in the tone of his words. His gaze suggested a desire to be recognized as a human with similar aspirations, hopes, and dreams to everyone else in the world.

When asked how he wants to be identified he gave a short answer that is a testament of what he wants for his homeland.

“Call me a peacemaker,” he said.

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