The Nakba and the ‘great book robbery’ of 1948

on 24 Comments

From the Great Book Robbery project website:

60,000 Palestinian books were systematically looted by the newly born State of Israel during the 1948 war. The story of the stolen books is not only at the heart of our project but also the launching pad of a much bigger and wider endeavor: We intend on communicating the scope and depth of the Palestinian tragedy through the destruction of Palestinian culture in 1948. . .

The drive to “collect” the books came from the management and librarians of Israel’s National Library – a leading cultural institution of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel – where all the valuable books ended up. Another thirty thousand (30,000) Palestinian books were “collected” in Haifa and Jaffa.

Today, six thousand of the looted books are to be found on the shelves of the National Library; organised like a fossilized army of a dead Chinese emperor, accessible but lifeless, indexed with the label AP – Abandoned Property. In Hebrew, the National Library is called “The National Home of the Books”.

This entirely unknown historical event came into light by chance: While researching in various state archives, Israeli PhD student Gish Amit stumbled upon documents that mentioned “books” and the need to “collect” them.

The plunder affair is a remarkable illustration of how one culture emerges from the dust of another after it has laid it to waste: The moment Palestinian culture is destroyed is also the moment a new Israeli consciousness is born; based not only on the erasure of the Arabs’ presence in Palestine but also on the destruction of their culture.

Dramatic new light illuminates the disaster that wreaked not only the Palestinian people in 1948 but also their culture. A particularly chilling document, from March 1948, lists tens of Jerusalemites whose libraries were looted – it reads like a Who’s Who of the Palestinian cultural elite of the time.

For decades Zionist and Israeli propaganda described the Palestinians as “people without culture.” Thus, the victorious Israeli state took upon itself to civilise the Palestinians who remained within its borders at the end of the 1948 war: They were forbidden to study their own culture or to remember their immediate past; their memory was seen as a dangerous weapon that had to be suppressed and controlled.

Learn more about the project and support it here.

24 Responses

  1. potsherd
    October 25, 2010, 9:20 am

    The looting of the libraries feeds directly into Assali’s statement about destroying the urban, educated class of Palestinians.

  2. annie
    October 25, 2010, 10:50 am

    i recalled reading about 2 sisters tracking down their father’s renowned library and the librarian afforded them the privilege of viewing just one book. having forgotten the name of the family but enough of the story i found it again, it’s here: The Sakakini House.

    i recommend reading the whole link.

    When they heard rumors that their father’s large, renowned library was being held in the Hebrew University National Library, they went there. We introduced ourselves, they said, and were taken to one of the senior librarians. He was courteous, but what he had to say was harsh. You have no right to claim anything, he said, because each volume individually, and all of them together, are abandoned property. He may have seen us look amazed, and perhaps also angry, they said, for he repeated that since 1948 all Palestinian property, books, buildings, fields, villages, towns, has become the property of the state of Israel.

    Domiya and Hala asked at least to be permitted to view the books, maybe touch them, page through them, but the librarian, obstinate, agreed to show them just one book, only one, whichever they chose, whichever they remembered. We knew that father didn’t write his name in the books, they said, but would make notes on the page margins. We selected “The Beggars,” by Al-Jahdh, a ninth century encyclopedist. And, in fact, after
    some time the librarian returned, holding the book. He let us page through it in front of him, as if we were dangerous culture robbers, and waited for us to return it.

    The sisters made no more memory journeys. They had seen enough, experienced enough.

    • potsherd
      October 25, 2010, 11:39 am

      But when it’s Jews trying to recover Jewish property stolen by the Nazis, Oh, how the story is changed!

  3. seafoid
    October 25, 2010, 11:10 am

    “Domiya and Hala asked at least to be permitted to view the books, maybe touch them, page through them, but the librarian, obstinate, agreed to show them just one book, only one, whichever they chose, whichever they remembered.

    It is the same with everything regarding the Palestinians in Zionism. They just don’t exist. Watch the Zochrot videos. There was NO HISTORY between AD 70 and 1948.

    • Walid
      October 25, 2010, 12:04 pm

      The Zionists were still at it in 1982 trying to erase traces of Palestinian culture but in Beirut this time. After the PLO were put on the boats to Tunis, the Israelis carted away the Palestine Research Center‘s Beirut Office’s entire archive, which consisted of some 25,000 volumes in Arabic, Hebrew and French which had served as the Beirut depository of Palestine‘s historical, political, and cultural heritage. Two years later, in 1983, following international pressure, the Israelis returned the archival collection – minus the film collection – to the Palestinians, who subsequently moved it to Cyprus. The Zionists have this thing about Palestinian photography collections because they represent a graphic recording of Palestinian existence that the Zionists keep denying. 1982 in Israel’s illustrious history was also the year of Sabra-Shatilla.

      It happened yet again in 2001 in Jerusalem when Israel shut down and looted the Palestinians’ Orient House. The Orient House constituted the main and only representation of Palestinian political institutions in the city. In this capacity, it was recognized by all the international powers involved in the peace negotiations since the Madrid conference in 1991 and this international recognition of Palestinians was pissing off the Israelis to no end especially Netanyahu.

      From the Orient House, Israel stole personal belongings, confidential information relating to the Jerusalem issue, and documents referring as far back as the 1991 Madrid conference; the office of the late Faisal al-Husseini was completely emptied. Impounded under the pretext of “security,” the archives contain numerous documents and files that are integral to future development strategies for East Jerusalem and to the assistance of Palestinian negotiators. The looting included the Arab Studies Society photography collection that represented a unique record of Jerusalem‘s ethno-graphic relations among its 19th and 20th century population.

      Not very nice people those Israelis.

      More details on various Israeli lootings:

      link to

      • thankgodimatheist
        October 25, 2010, 7:40 pm

        “Not very nice people those Israelis.”

        Nothing surprising in that a criminal wants to erase evidence of his crimes..or that his victim had a life to start with, a past or a present so how could he has killed a non existing person?

      • Antidote
        October 25, 2010, 11:22 pm

        “minus the film collection ”

        The Israelis will never return the ‘film collection’ they confiscated from the Mavi Marmara passengers either, and for the same reason: would expose their lies

  4. pabelmont
    October 25, 2010, 1:05 pm

    It is my recollection that on one of its bouts of collection fever, Israel’s army collected the land-records from various registries of deeds. If this is so (who would know?) it would rather impede the efforts of refugees from 1948 to establish ownership and (were this ever a possibility) collect reparations.

    • Walid
      October 25, 2010, 2:06 pm

      The collection fever you are talking about happened while Arafat’s compound was besieged and Israel was on a rampage to destroy most of the West Bank’s police stations and the rest of the Palestinians’ infrastructures. The registries of real estate, land deeds, rent rolls, commercial establishment ownership and the like were confiscated and those computers that weren’t carted away were smashed on the spot. The same happened at the Ministry of Education where all academic records of Palestinians were confiscated and computers either taken away or destroyed with nothing in between. I was watching it live on CNN and Jazzeera.

      I remember reading a while back that the Palestine Research Center Beirut office that was looted in 82 contained records that had been compiled from the refugees in Lebanon about who owned what or who was renting or had businesses in Palestine with supporting documents in some cases when Israel evicted them and that this had been the motive behind the looting of the center.

      Middle East Economic Survey reported at the time in 2002:

      “… Equally disturbing, say donors, is the fact that civilian infrastructure is being targeted, damaged, looted and in some cases destroyed, fueling fears that Palestinian administrative institutional capacity will be destroyed and along with it the ability to provide the most basic public services. Several reports have confirmed that the Palestinian Ministry of Education has been hit and raided. The Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ramallah Arab Care hospital and Red Crescent Maternity hospital have been attacked and badly damaged. Entire shops in Ramallah have been burned down and raided and local sources confirm that IDF soldiers have looted buildings. The offices of the national telecom provider Paltel in Nablus were attacked and computers were stolen by the Israeli forces. Several reports speak of house-to-house raids where the inhabitants are held at gun point while Israeli soldiers remove objects of value including gold and mobile phones (gold is used as an informal savings mechanism by many families and is sold in times of crisis to provide immediate cash flow). Several reports describe Ramallah as “unrecognizable”. While, the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) is trying to mobilize ambulances and food trucks, it says it cannot do so without Israeli assurances that they will not come under fire.”

      The grim stats in the wake of Israeli assault:

      link to

      • tree
        October 25, 2010, 2:43 pm

        Thanks for that, Walid. I had the same recollection as pabelmont, recollecting that it probably happened during one of those euphemistic “Defensive XXX” operations after the second intifada, but couldn’t put my hands on the confirmation. I remember it being an important knowledge point in my discovery of the true situation in Israel/Palestine. You don’t wantonly destroy the Ministry of Education or Health if you are only interested in “security” or “deterring terrorism”.

      • potsherd
        October 25, 2010, 9:12 pm

        Sure you do! If you kill and drive out the entire population, there won’t be any terrorists left to disturb your security.

      • Walid
        October 25, 2010, 11:57 pm

        Potsherd, back then, the PA in its ass-kissing had rounded up and jailed hundreds Hamas people but when Israel started its rampage and destroyed most of the police stations, this freed all the prisoners that included hardened criminals. We saw it again in Gaza in December 2008 and at the graduation ceremony of the police cadets.

      • thankgodimatheist
        October 25, 2010, 8:03 pm

        One thing is missing from the account you provided..the defecation! John Pilger in his book “Freedom, Next Time” describes in detail how the glorious IDF thugs defecated everywhere in Ramallah during the siege imposed on Arafat’s headquarters..The local library was inundated with urine, covered with excrement, the local children’s artwork, the walls, everything, smeared with it…A measure to humiliate and debase..

      • thankgodimatheist
        October 25, 2010, 9:37 pm

        They even managed to defecate in refrigerators!!! I’m still wondering years after it happened, how on earth did they mange to shit in refrigerators?!!!

      • Antidote
        October 25, 2010, 11:25 pm

        Nothing is beyond the abilities of the inventors of the cherry tomato.

      • Walid
        October 25, 2010, 11:43 pm

        TGIA, too disgusting; same happened in Lebanon in 2006. Some people returning to their homes found the stuff smeared over their walls and in their beds. In contrast, some shopkeepers that had fled returned to find notes left by Hizbullah fighters telling them what they had taken in cigarettes and other stuff and a week or so after their return, someone came to pay for what was taken and insisted paying in spite of objections by the shopkeepers.

      • thankgodimatheist
        October 26, 2010, 1:25 am

        People! Strange things are taking place! Yesterday I posted on my blog the new Facebook photos of IDF thugs having fun humiliating people inside their houses in Gaza that Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam) have posted..He was source. Today the photos have mysteriously disappeared from my post(!!!) and the link is inaccessible! The photos were copied and pasted not downloaded to my hard drive so I cannot repost them.! I tried to access Tikun via Google and received a “bad request” message!! There’s no way one I can access that blog again..
        Any idea of what’s going on?

      • Shmuel
        October 26, 2010, 1:36 am

        Seems ok now – both at your site and Richard’s.

      • thankgodimatheist
        October 26, 2010, 5:32 am

        Yes, back to normal and Tikun is accessible..I have no idea what went wrong all day..Tikun was not accessible for many hours..

      • Bumblebye
        October 26, 2010, 9:06 am

        Defecation all over Palestinians is surely an old tactic? Take over a Palestinian home, confine the family to one room. When you leave, ensure their pots and pans are left full of your teams bodily wastes. Can’t link, but read about it many times years ago. I guess it’s just been revised, accelerated and more widely used currently. Isn’t it a feature of ape hostility to throw sh*t at those they don’t like, as experienced by zoo visitors sometimes?

  5. eljay
    October 25, 2010, 2:31 pm

    >> It is my recollection that on one of its bouts of collection fever, Israel’s army collected the land-records from various registries of deeds. If this is so (who would know?) it would rather impede the efforts of refugees from 1948 to establish ownership and (were this ever a possibility) collect reparations.

    How to create “a good in the world”: Steal the land, destroy the records, kill the people, imprison the “Palestinian Gandhis” and, most important of all, never forget to “Remember the Holocaust!” (as often and as loudly as you can).

  6. Les
    October 25, 2010, 3:20 pm

    It remains to be seen when the huge Judaica book collection the US took from Iraq’s libraries will be returned to Baghdad.

  7. bijou
    October 25, 2010, 9:29 pm

    Not only books – films also. Please watch this powerful short animation piece about this topic:

    For Cultural Purposes Only by Sarah Wood

    • Walid
      October 26, 2010, 8:31 am

      Bijou, your link mentions the films stolen in Beirut in 1982. Sara Wood during a snowstorm in 2009 wrote:

      “… It’s only a few weeks ago since I watched Tzipi Livni announce on TV that Israel was to ‘change the reality’ of Gaza. As suddenly as this snowfall altered Britain, the lives and landscape of Gaza were altered by military action. Reality was ‘changed’. The snow has now nudged Gaza off the headlines. TV landscape has been whited out too.

      But I can’t stop thinking about Livni’s phrase. Quite apart from its Nineteen Eighty-Four connotations, I’m thinking about how this is possible. How can we ‘change reality’? As individuals do we have agency and more, the ability to change reality? Or are we also passive, subject to changes of reality? Is it either/or? Can we have both? ”

      Changing reality by creating other ones on the ground; it’s about what is referred to as the “erasing of the Palestinians”. Israelis like to pretend Palestinians don’t really exist, like some kind of bad dream and for 62 years have been going about erasing anything that would remind them that they are there and will always be there. 400 or so villages destroyed, Palestinian names of places changed to Hebrew ones, building walls and fences, stealing their culture and history to make them and the world forget and the rest of the stuff Israel has been doing to the Palestinians will not make them go away.

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