My Palestine

Mohammad Tarbush / Foreword by Nada Tarbush

‘As impressive a man as the Arab world has to show.’
Edward Said on Mohammad Tarbush

‘A work of necessity and hope. Read it and be wiser.’
Yann Martel

‘A story of Palestine, but also the story of a singular, remarkable Palestinian.’
Kamila Shamsie

‘A personal as well as political history of Palestine, poignantly written and closely argued.’
Arundhati Roy

‘Far more than a memoir, Mohammad Tarbush’s remarkable and courageous life, which he narrates with great lyricism, offers readers a keyhole through which to see the immense forces that created one nation by stealing another.’
Naomi Klein




‘This is a tale of resilience and perseverance of an extraordinary man … beautifully rendered and replete with joy and hope.’
Raja Shehadeh

‘This autobiography teaches us that nothing can destroy the human spirit and there are no weapons that can kill hope.’
Nurit Peled-Elhanan

‘An intimate and moving account of the resourcefulness of the human spirit to endure’
Abdulrazak Gurnah

‘A poignant account of one Palestinian’s life journey … An unforgettable book.’
Eugene Rogan

‘This autobiography offers a gripping account of the trajectory – from destitute refugee to writer, scholar, banker and public advocate – of an extraordinary individual, while at the same time illustrating the story of the Palestinian people.’
Rashid Khalidi


Mohammad Tarbush was born in British Mandate Palestine. As an infant, he and his family were forced to evacuate their village together with its entire population after the Zionist victory that led to the establishment of the State of Israel. As landless refugees in the West Bank the family sank into poverty.

When, as a teenager, Tarbush left home one day under the pretext of visiting relatives in Jordan, he in fact set off on a year-long hitchhiking journey to Europe, where he would eventually become a highly successful international banker and a key behind-the-scenes promoter of the Palestinian cause.

My Palestine is a poignant personal memoir and an incisive political and economic commentary on the tumultuous events that shaped the history of Israel, Palestine and the modern Middle East.

MOHAMMAD TARBUSH was born in Beit Nattif, near Jerusalem. In 1988, he became managing director at Deutsche Bank then at UBS. He is the author of several books including Reflections of a Palestinian. His writings on Palestine have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Guardian and Financial Times, among others.

NADA TARBUSH represents Palestine as a diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva. She holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, and Master’s degrees from Columbia University, Sciences Po Paris, and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

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Foreword by Nada Tarbush, Geneva, March 2024

I grew up mesmerised by my father’s story. My most vivid memory from childhood is tugging at the seams of my father’s shirt, begging him to answer my question: ‘w baaden shu sar – and then what happened?’ He used to recount his story to me with so many cliffhangers. At the same time tragic, dramatic, amusing and inspiring, it was the story of a Palestinian refugee who, at the age of sixteen, with broken English learned at a UN refugee school, a handful of dollars and a small duffel bag containing a single change of clothes, walked out of the West Bank city of Jericho without the knowledge of his parents and threw himself into the unknown, determined to make a different life for himself, his family and his people. I knew nothing of Palestine at that age, and I didn’t understand what a refugee was. All I knew was that my father had survived an epic adventure, and that he was my hero.

His story shaped me and my life choices, and I felt privileged and grateful to have grown up hearing him tell it. I began asking him to write it down so that others outside of our family might read his story and be equally inspired. Asking turned into nagging, and I was so persistent during the Covid-19 lockdowns that he finally gave in to my demands. ‘Amrek yaba – at your command, my daughter,’ he said, and started to write. The minute he sat down to write, words flooded out onto the page. He could not stop. I would find him typing away until the early hours of the morning, taking short breaks to eat. It was as though the act of looking back at his life had unearthed a well-spring of memories that came bubbling to the surface and that he could no longer contain.

To my satisfaction, by the end of the pandemic the first draft of the manuscript was ready. Yet as fate would have it, time was not on his side and my father very sadly passed away in January 2022 before the editing of his manuscript was complete, his heart weakened by old age. There are not enough pages to describe the immeasurable sense of loss and grief I felt at the passing of my father. My only consolation was that I held in my hands a manuscript that he cherished and on which he had worked during the final years and days of his life. In trying to dampen the feeling of his absence, I felt a certain solace in dedicating my time to bringing to fruition this project, and I was pleased when Haus Publishing expressed a desire to take over where my father had left off and publish the book that you now hold in your hands. I am grateful that my father’s last words to the world have been eternalised in this memoir.

The theme of this book is Palestine and its history, and the displacement and exile of its people. But it is, above all, a human story. Personal tragedy and national tragedy cannot be decoupled. And no one can fully grasp the seismic events that have transformed the Middle East over the past hundred years, including the gradual erasure of Palestine – or begin to consider solutions to the ongoing injustice faced by the Palestinian people – without first understanding the very real and transformative consequences of these events for ordinary Palestinians and their lives, identities and culture. Many people know about Palestine, but fewer know about the Palestinians themselves, who continue to experience prejudice and dehumanising portrayals in the Western media. My father’s story makes the basic point that, like all people, the Palestinians are made of flesh and blood and their children feel the agony of pain as strongly as they enjoy the warmth of happiness.

His personal odyssey, against all odds, is also an inspiring account of how determination, modesty, the kindness of strangers, intellectual curiosity and vision can help overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His journey from Palestine to Europe was filled with bumpy roads and any external onlooker would have deemed his plan to hitchhike from Jericho to Switzerland, inspired by a Swiss postcard featuring the Alps, to be veering on fantasy. His personal success conveys the message that with resilience and hard work nothing is impossible. Despite that, his exile was impossible – to him – because he could never leave Palestine behind. His attachment to his homeland was too strong and his identity as a Palestinian too endangered to ever forget or move on.

Throughout his years of exile, including during his high-level career in banking, the former refugee kid could never set aside his childhood family experiences: their relative prosperity as successful small-holding farmers; their expulsion from their property; their languishing in poverty as refugees; the hopeless future facing all the victims of a defeated, deprived and powerless Palestine. His work allowed him to rub shoulders with important figures in the worlds of global economics, politics and international affairs. So he decided, from his perch in the world of finance, to capitalise on the wide network of friends, contacts and connections he had built up with diplomats, politicians and the media. He used every opportunity he had to start a conversation with the Western public and explain the justice of the Palestinian people’s cause, using the most prestigious platforms he could to deliver his message.

Until his death, Palestine was his beacon of light. It defined and guided every aspect of his life: what he thought about, what he wrote about, what he ate for breakfast, what he grew in his garden, what he loved most. When I visited my father at home in the French countryside, I would almost always find him in the garden, tending to the olive, fig and pomegranate trees he had planted as if they were his children. He wanted to recreate a mini-Palestine in exile, he said. Our conversation would then shift to whether I had drunk maramiyeh (wild sage) tea that morning and to him reminding me that it, and olive oil, must always form part of my daily diet, these staples of Palestine having a multitude of health benefits.

If my father’s story has taught me one lesson, it would be do not despair. He lived by and embodied that motto. Nothing was unattainable, no situation desperate enough to throw up hands and give up. There was always a solution, always ease to be found after hardship. Despite the tragic story of his family and his people, he maintained a relentless and stubborn hope. It is this attitude that led him to believe, with unwavering conviction, that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land will come to an end, that the Palestinian refugees will realise their legitimate right of return and that Israelis and Palestinians will live together in peace and prosperity as equals in a single state.

Given the events of and since 7 October 2023 in Israel–Palestine, this book is more relevant than ever, and perhaps it is down to fate’s wisdom that it is being published only now. These tragic developments cannot be isolated from their historical and political context; they are the culmination of more than seven decades of history, which are duly analysed in this memoir. They show that the status quo is untenable and that it is high time, for the sake of peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike, for action to be taken – not only to end the current tragedy but also to finally address and resolve the root causes of recurrent crises and suffering. Namely, seventy-six years of Palestinian dispossession and subjugation, fifty-seven years of military occupation of Palestinian land, seventeen years of illegal blockading of Gaza and chronic impunity for violations of international law.

And change is possible. As the International Court of Justice prepares its ruling in South Africa v. Israel, in which Israel stands accused of committing the crime of genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza, and an advisory opinion on the legal status of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and decades-long denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, the next few months and years will be instrumental in shaping the future of Palestine and Israel. These days have also seen an unprecedented rise in awareness worldwide of the Palestinian cause, marking a generational shift. Despite decades of frustration and defeat, a fast-growing movement of people advocating for the respect of universal principles of international law, accountability, human rights and justice for Palestinians gives cause for hope that the future will be more grounded in these principles, more just and more peaceful.

With eternal gratitude to my unconditionally loving old man, as he called himself, who imbued me with a passion for justice and for the Palestinian cause, I send this book into the world in the hope that my father’s story will inspire readers just as it has inspired me, and that brighter days will shine upon his Palestine.