Nazmi Jubeh


Nazmi Jubeh grew up exploring the nooks and alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem, and as an adult he turned that devotion into his life’s work. An expert on Jerusalem and Hebron and the religious institutions in both cities, he has written extensively in these areas and is sought after by national and international institutions working to preserve Palestinian cultural heritage. For more than three decades, he has taught at Birzeit University.

Nazmi Jubeh was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1955. He was the sixth of 11 children born to Amin and Fakhriyya Jubeh. His father had a spice store in the Old City.

An Old City Childhood

Jubeh attended al-Omariyya school, near al-Haram al-Sharif. He recalls being a voracious reader; he must have also been a creative problem solver. With no neighborhood public libraries available, he faced a supply problem. He recalls that when he was eight or nine years old, he struck a deal with two local magazine and booksellers near Damascus Gate: for half a piaster, he could sit near the stand and read a magazine; for a piaster, he could take it home overnight and return it, provided that it remained unblemished; and for three piasters, he could take an entire book home. He recalls taking books and magazines to a favorite reading spot along the Old City wall and reading contentedly for hours, a breathtaking panorama view of the Mount of Olives and Silwan extended in front of him.

At age 11, he moved with his family to Wadi Hilweh, part of Silwan. The move was an important step up for his family; their new home had conveniences the old home lacked, such as electricity, running water, and a garden. Many decades later, Jubeh reflected on that period in his life. He recalled becoming friendly with Jordanian soldiers stationed in the Old City. His new route to school took him through the Moroccan Quarter (Haret al-Maghariba) and provided an introduction to the Maghrebi community. He observed the distinct clothing worn by residents and the dialect they spoke, and he noted the food they cooked, whose aroma filled the alleys. Their speech patterns, too, differed; they spoke more quickly than Jerusalemites. He soon became fascinated by the quarter.

I explored thoroughly all the alleys in the quarter, and I believe now that they were the smallest and narrowest in the Old City. Almost none were straight roads; the network of streets twisted and turned. The houses in the Moroccan quarter were not the most beautiful in the Old City, or as high as houses in other quarters. But I recall the numerous small home gardens, and the many fig and pomegranate trees, more abundant in the quarter than in other neighborhoods. This is how the Moroccan quarter became one of my favorite childhood hangouts.1

His new route to school took him through the Moroccan Quarter and provided an introduction to the Maghrebi community. 

The 1967 War: An Introduction to Israeli Bulldozers

Less than a year after he moved from the Old City, the 1967 War erupted. The family sought refuge with Jubeh’s grandparents, who lived within the Old City walls. He recalls staying in a large room with several families during the worst of the fighting. After a few days, someone reported seeing the Iraqi army in town, and the grandfather went out to welcome them with tea. Moments later, he rushed back to the house, shaken by the realization that the unthinkable had happened: Israel had taken over the rest of the country.

Jubeh’s father decided to take his family back to their home in Wadi Hilweh, which represented everything the family owned; luckily, it had not been damaged. But along the way home, Jubeh recalls people fleeing in great distress. Only when he came upon heavily armed Israeli soldiers, dancing in what should have been the Moroccan Quarter, did he understand what had happened.

The Moroccan quarter no longer existed. The fig and pomegranate trees were gone, and so were the alleys I used to walk and play in. Muhammad, Sa‘id, Si Yusif, Masluhi and his fig tree were not there, the only thing visible under June’s hot sun was a cloud of dust hovering over a heap of rubble. Bulldozers, which I had never seen before in my life, were roaring along their metal chains to the tunes of victory music, completing a job as yet unfinished. That day I saw Ashkenazi rabbis for the first time; they were there in their black attire and strange hats (shtreimels), dancing over the rubble . . . dancing over my memories, over the homes of my friends and the paths that I so often frequented.2

The war marked the beginning of what Jubeh later described as his obsession with Israeli bulldozers: they changed landmarks, razed Arab homes, and obliterated familiar and beloved places, like the Moroccan Quarter. The bulldozers also laid waste to the Jordanian army watch post. Soon after returning to his home, Jubeh made his way to the site and found the bloated bodies of Jordanian soldiers, presumably those who had befriended him. The child covered them with dirt and tree branches and recited a prayer for them. Recalling the incident years later, he described their burial as being “in a manner not befitting those who had died defending Jerusalem.”3 Israel later bulldozed the site to create a parking lot, and so he could not even go to read them a prayer, a fact he recalled decades later with some sadness. In retrospect, he thought they had been killed by napalm bombs.

Walking to school after the war, Jubeh’s route took him past a plaza built on the ruins of the Moroccan Quarter. The school itself underwent changes; the Israeli government removed the Jordanian textbooks and imposed on the school the same curriculum as that taught to Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel in 1948. Palestinians opposed these changes and demanded a restoration of the Jordanian curriculum, which finally happened a few years later.

When he finished eighth grade in 1969, he decided to enroll in the Arab Kuwaiti College in Abu Dis. The decision was political: the structure was slated for confiscation by Israel, which reportedly wanted to turn it into a military camp. The local community worked quickly to prepare the building to receive students. Jubeh did not consult his parents before changing schools, however, as he believed that it was part of his patriotic duty and moved forward, doing what he thought was right. He was only 14 years old at the time.4

Two years later, he enrolled at the Hashemite school in al-Bira, which offered a scientific curriculum for the last two years of high school. Six months into grade 11, he was arrested. It was the first of many arrests for anti-occupation activities, and at 30 months, it was the longest.5

Backgrounder The Destruction of Jerusalem’s Moroccan Quarter: From Centuries-Old Maghrebi Community to Western Wall Prayer Plaza

How Israel razed an 800-year-old historic Muslim neighborhood in the dead of night within hours of occupying East Jerusalem

“The fig and pomegranate trees were gone, and so were the alleys I used to walk and play in.”

Nazmi Jubeh

Higher Education

Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled at Birzeit University where he completed a BA in Middle Eastern studies and archeology in 1980.

For the next four years, he directed the Islamic Museum at al-Aqsa Mosque. The museum, established in 1923 by the Supreme Islamic Council, is the oldest museum in Palestine. It is home to rare artistic and archeological collections from various Islamic historical periods, including a copy of the largest Quran in Palestine (110 x 170 cm). Written in the ninth century during the Mamluk period, it is also the oldest Quran available. Years later, Jubeh described his years at the mosque museum in glowing terms as having provided him a wonderful education in both the history of Jerusalem and the history of Islamic art. He entered an institution with no real records for the artifacts it had, so he had to create the records; he notes that his handwritten cards are still used by the museum. And although he was working in a religious and conservative museum environment at odds with his progressive beliefs, he learned a lot from working there and credits it with partially shaping his career.6

In 1981, he married Haifa Labadi. The couple has two daughters and a son.

Jubeh then left the museum and headed for Germany. He enrolled at the University of Tübingen, where he received a master’s degree in Oriental studies, Iranian studies, and biblical archeology in 1988 and a doctoral degree in Oriental studies in 1991.

Since 1991, he has taught history and archeology at Birzeit University and served as the dean of students (1995–97). In 2009, he began teaching in the history and Jerusalem studies program at Al-Quds University, as well.

Between 2018 and 2021, he was the director of the Birzeit University Museum. In addition to organizing exhibitions, he focused on protecting existing collections.

Baptism by Fire

When Jubeh was hired by Birzeit University in 1991, the First Intifada was still ongoing, and his university (like all educational institutions in the occupied Palestinian territories) had been closed by the Israeli authorities. He began his teaching career meeting his students in other facilities in the Ramallah area. Writing about the experience almost 30 years later, he recalls that he never took attendance, his students never missed classes, and he raced to each class to make sure that his students were not alone should the Israeli army pay them an unexpected and unwelcome visit.7

In 1992, he became codirector with Suad Amiry of Riwaq, the Centre for Architectural Conservation. The organization was the first in the occupied territories to focus on the protection and restoration of Palestinian architectural heritage. Among the many important projects undertaken by Riwaq during those years was the compilation of a Registry of Historic Buildings, half of which were located in about 50 different Palestinian villages. The center focused attention on those villages and developed rehabilitation projects (“heritage architecture”) that would improve infrastructure and services there, maintaining them as historic and cultural sites instead of leaving them to deteriorate or be replaced. Hundreds of historic buildings in the West Bank were restored by Riwaq, and many monographs on architectural heritage were published.8

During Jubeh’s tenure, Riwaq received a UN-Habitat Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment. He remained codirector of Riwaq until 2010.

Reflecting on this experience more than a decade later, Jubeh offered this assessment of his years in Riwaq:

Riwaq was [a] great experience, both socially and professionally. The task of Riwaq was and still is to document and preserve the architectural heritage in Palestine. The idea in 1991 was totally new in Palestine; we had to promote it. During the first few years, we (Suad Amiri and myself) were volunteers; we were teaching at Birzeit University and spending our free time at Riwaq. Riwaq is a good example of mixing professional work, national expression, and pleasure. We managed to establish a new form of administration [referring to Riwaq’s practice of being run by a male and female director with equal authority], which is not known in our environment. My work on the National Register of Historic Buildings in Palestine required that I visit every city, town, and village in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem, entering (more or less) every building that was constructed before 1948. Through Riwaq, I expressed myself intellectually while being part of a huge social network.9

Political Engagement

Jubeh was a member of the Steering Committee of the negotiating team (1991–93) that emerged from the 1991 Madrid Peace process to find solutions to final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. At the time, he had mixed feelings about the process: he wanted to help bring about peace and freedom for Palestinians, but he could tell that Israel wanted peace in the context of controlling historic Palestine.10 For a few years in the 1990s, he advised the Palestinian Authority on matters relating to Jerusalem.

In the early 2000s, Palestinian and Israeli public figures began meeting to propose a blueprint to end the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians. Jubeh was one of the participants. In a 2003 presentation about the discussions, he described this Geneva Accord as an agreement that was grounded in and framed by the Taba talks in 2001. The broad outlines of the talks included a two-state outcome as the end goal, the 1967 borders as the basis of negotiations, and Jerusalem as the capital of two states. The agreement was intended to settle all outstanding issues between the two parties. He described the document as one that did not break new ground but rather gathered in one document all the positions that had been accepted by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in other agreements. In his view, the most difficult issue faced by the participants was the refugee question, more so than the question of Jerusalem. An unexpected demand placed by the Israeli team was its insistence that Palestinians recognize “the Jewish character of Israel,” which struck the Palestinian participants as strange and potentially problematic for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.11 This demand would resurface in later years. At any rate, the Geneva Initiative never gained widespread Israeli or Palestinian popular support.


Jubeh is known for his expertise on Jerusalem and Hebron—specifically on their holy sites. He has written and edited numerous books and journal articles on these topics, including The Vernacular Architecture of Ramallah (2002), Old Hebron: The Magic of Historical City (editor; 2008), The Jewish Quarter and the Moroccan Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (2019), and Lifta: Register of a People, History, Cultural Heritage, and Struggle (2020).12 He delivered the Annual Nakba Lecture at the Jerusalem Story launch event, titled “Jerusalem and the Battle for Survival,”  in June 2022.

Historical sociologist Salim Tamari, who has written extensively on Palestinian history during the Ottoman and mandate periods, described Jubeh’s prolific scholarly production as “at once original in investigating hidden histories and conceptually profound. His recent work on the Mughrabi quarter, on the history of the Jewish quarter, and most recently on Lifta, combine in-depth historical investigation with intimate autobiographical detail.”13

“My work on the National Register of Historic Buildings in Palestine required that I visit every city, town, and village in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem, entering (more or less) every building that was constructed before 1948.”

Nazmi Jubeh

Beyond Academia

Jubeh has been involved in several initiatives related to religious and cultural institutions. These include developing a protection plan for the Old City of Hebron (1998–2000); building strategies for developing the cultural and other sectors in Jerusalem (2006, 2010); supervising the establishment of Mahmoud Darwish Museum in Ramallah (2010–12); working with the Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem (2012); and revising the design of the Islamic Museum of al-Aqsa Mosque (2014).

He is a board member of several cultural institutions in Palestine, including the Mahmoud Darwish Foundation, the Faisal al-Husseini Foundation, and the Arab Thought Forum.

Asked about his career choices, he observed: “Culture, cultural heritage, history, and national identity are to me one and the same subject. My relatively early engagement in political national life led to my later choices. I was there where I could help and contribute.”14

He lives with his wife in Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem.


Abu Huzaifa. “Islamic Museum.”

Jubeh, Abu Huzaifa. “Islamic Museum.”

al-Ju’beh, Nazmi (1955–).”

Jubeh, Nazmi. “Childhood Memories of a Jerusalemite.” Jerusalem Quarterly 73 (2018): 90–100.

Jubeh, Nazmi. Email communication with the author, October 5 and 31, 2022.

Jubeh, Nazmi. “The Geneva Accords—Just Another Peace Plan?”, February 10, 2003.

Jubeh, Nazmi. “Jerusalem: Fifty Years of Occupation.” Jerusalem Quarterly 72 (2017): 7–25.

Jubeh, Nazmi. “Lecture by Nazmi Al-Jubeh and the Launch of the ‘Jerusalem Story’ Website.” Arab Center, June 2022.

Jubeh, Nazmi. “Personal Reflections on Teaching at Birzeit University: From Occupation to Corona.” Coronavirus in Palestinian Life (blog). Institute for Palestine Studies, March 30, 2020.

Nazmi Jubeh.”

Tamari, Salim. Email to the author, October 4, 2022.


[Profile photo: This Week in Palestine]



Nazmi Jubeh, “Childhood Memories of a Jerusalemite,” Jerusalem Quarterly 73 (2018): 92.


Jubeh, “Childhood Memories,” 95.


Jubeh, “Childhood Memories,” 100. He mentions that he never spoke of this incident to anyone; he revealed it for the first time in this Jerusalem Quarterly article, a segment of a longer, unpublished memoir.


The community effort was successful; as of 2022, parts of the campus are used by Al-Quds University. Nazmi Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.


Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.


Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.


Jubeh’s recollections of teaching during the First Intifada appear in a blog post in which he reflected on teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparing the two experiences, he found that teaching via Zoom calls was much less satisfactory than instruction during the uncertainty of the First Intifada, when substitute classrooms could be raided by armed soldiers at any time. Nazmi Jubeh, “Personal Reflections on Teaching at Birzeit University: From Occupation to Corona,” Coronavirus in Palestinian Life (blog), Institute for Palestine Studies, March 30, 2020.


More information about the project is available at “50 Historic Centers,”


Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.


Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.


Nazmi Jubeh, “The Geneva Accords—Just Another Peace Plan?”, February 10, 2003.


These publications are in Arabic.


Salim Tamari, email to the author, October 4, 2022.


Jubeh, email to the author, October 31, 2022.

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