Since 2010 we’ve been tracking The Great Book Robbery, the documentary by Israeli-Dutch director Benny Brunner, including here and here. But nothing quite prepared me for Nora Lester Murad‘s review Stolen Books, Stolen Identity: What Did Israel Do with Palestinians’ Literary Heritage? as she captured the audience reaction at the first screening in Palestine last week with almost 150 people in attendance.
One of the Palestinians opens a book and finds “Khalil Sakakini” written by hand in the inside cover. He gasps. The audience watching the film, crammed into the basement floor of Educational Bookshop on Salah Al-Din Street in Jerusalem, is captivated. I crane my neck to see past the tall woman in front of me. The importance of this book, a one-time possession of one of the Arab world’s most important educators and nationalists, jumps off the screen. I feel an unspoken sadness in the room as we grasp the reality: This priceless piece of Palestinian heritage, and so many others, is held by Israel’s National Library.
During the discussion that followed the film, he [Brunner] also made the point that rare manuscripts (estimated by a knowledgeable member of the audience as numbering around 50,000, originating from 56 libraries in and around Jerusalem) are not included in the estimates and are totally unaccounted for. There are rare Palestinian manuscripts in the collection at the National Library, but they are not accessible by the general public. There are also rare Palestinian manuscripts at Hebrew University.
“We should remember,” Brunner added, “the film only addresses books that were stolen in 1948. We don’t know the details of what happened in 1967, though we do know there is a pattern of Israeli looting of Palestinian books, photographs and archives, including the PLO archives in Lebanon.”
To prove this point, a member of the audience later told me that a rare copy of Palestine in Pictures from the early 1920s was confiscated by the Israelis when her father crossed Allenby Bridge from Jordan in 1987 after he waited five hours to get it back. He finally asked for and was given a receipt for his book, but as history proves, documentation does not necessarily lead to restitution. The only other copy the owner knows of is in Bodleian Library at Oxford University
I recommend the entire review.
(Hat tip Sarah Ali)