First they stole our books, then they took our story

(This article was originally published at The Palestine Chronicle)

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Susan Abulhawa

I finally watched The Great Book Robbery at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend with some friends. It’s a film documenting Israel’s systematic looting of over 70,000 books from Palestinian public and private libraries after Jewish gangs in Palestine proclaimed the state of Israel and ethnically cleansed the native population.

The film itself is excellent and I have a lot of good things to say about it. But I was bothered by a certain element, at the very end, which was repeated by the Director, Benny Brunner, who was at the showing to answer questions. So I raised my hand and asked a question about it. Mr Brunner became very defensive.

His reaction made me think and re-think on a topic that already preoccupies me on a near daily basis – namely, the Palestinian narrative: who tells it, in what context is it told, how is it told, and, ultimately, who owns it. The importance of such a discussion regarding a people’s narrative should not be underestimated, particularly in instances of oppression and ethnic cleansing.

Putting aside the single, albeit important, element that bothered me in the film, and the film director’s unfortunate reaction to uncomfortable questions, I will first tell you everything that was right and good about this documentary. For starters, it unveils another facet of the Zionist project to strip the indigenous Palestinians of everything tangible and intangible, not merely out of pure greed and opportunism, but also to necessarily fill in the various gaps and requirements of manufacturing a Jewish state in the 20th century. This documentary deals with our books – some ancient, others contemporary; some rare one-of-a-kind books, others reproduced. Most of them were personal, all were historic, and each was a piece of Palestinian cultural and intellectual heritage and identity.

As Zionists did with our homes, bank accounts, photographs, farms, orchards, and all remaining worldly possessions, they also stole our books. A large number of them were looted from wealthy families from Jerusalem and Haifa, and in the process of watching this documentary, the viewer gets a sense of the cultured and highly-educated Palestinian society that was dispossessed of home and history by foreign Jewish newcomers. One man in the audience made reference to this in a comment to the director. This film clearly changed the image of Palestinians in his mind from something other than cultured, to people he could relate to. That says something about the film’s power.

Several Palestinian personalities were featured, including Nasser Nashashibi, whose tears fell as he spoke of the loss of his library. Ghada Karmi, too, was in the film. Footage showed her returning to her home in Qatamon and finding the same lemon tree and porch tiles from her youth. Another poignant interview was with a Palestinian by the name of Ahmed Batrawi. He described himself as a prisoner of war who was forced to work and to clear out other Palestinian homes, including his own, and turn over all loot to Zionist authorities. Although the director did not mention this, all evidence points to Batrawi having been in one of the many forced labor camps that Israel apparently established just 4 years after Nazis closed the last of their forced labor camps. Little is known of these camps and I first heard of them from Dr Salman Abu Sitta, whose research into the archives of the Swiss Red Cross revealed 5 camps with 6,360 prisoners who were forced into slave labor after 1948. But I digress.

The story was haunting and compelling. It provoked anger in me that plunged into a depth of sadness and loss. I think it would seem silly to some to mourn old books, especially when there is so much more to mourn, from stolen futures to extinguished lives. But perhaps it is precisely for the magnitude of our loss that our books, our intellectual heritage and narrative, matter so much.

Now I’ll tell you what bothered me about this film. Toward the end, text appeared on the screen to tell us that no attempts have ever been made to return any of these stolen books (marked abandoned property in the Israeli national library). Immediately after, there was text indicating that there has also been no organized Palestinian demand for these books to be returned. My well-honed antennae perked up with this statement and I sat through much of the Q&A session ruminating about the unspoken meaning of those words, particularly as they were coming from an Israeli filmmaker. In one of his responses to questions, he made another reference to Palestinian inability to coalesce around a demand for those books, “whose ownership is easily proven.”

It was here that I raised my hand. I asked the first of my questions, which didn’t pertain to what really annoyed me: “Palestinians can prove ownership of nearly all of Israel, what makes you think that demanding our books back would get a result different than demanding our homes back?” He said it didn’t matter whether we got them back or not, what mattered was the demand.

It seems that Israelis, especially those referred to as “leftists” can’t help but to lecture Palestinians. The kind of paternalistic finger wagging the director was doing seemed so natural. Even when I questioned him about it, he was indignant and self-assured in his right to criticize.

I reminded him that they – yes, he is part of the “they” – have taken everything from us and with what gall, with what right, did he think he could wag his finger at us when heroes like Samer Issawi are dying of hunger in their prisons.

He didn’t get it. And few in the audience understood my perspective. What an angry, ungrateful Palestinian I was being! This Israeli was on our side and here I was jumping all over the poor guy. Even the Palestinian young woman who organized the event stood up to defend Mr Brunner. I asked her sit down if she was going to try to squash this discussion because he, the director, should be able to answer uncomfortable questions.

Mr Brunner defended his position and said he did indeed have a right to criticize Palestinians. He said the books were part of his history, too. I disagreed. The legacy of theft was all, and is all, he can claim of those books. Anything else is as ridiculous and laughable as “Israeli couscous” and “Israeli hummus”.

Mr Brunner further lectured that an ideal “solution” to the problem of these stolen books would be that photocopied replicas remain in the Israeli library while the originals could go to the “Birzeit library”. An astute Palestinian woman behind me asked why he thought they should be transferred to Birzeit when these books came from Jerusalem, Haifa, Yaffa, Lod, and other Palestinian towns quite a distance from Birzeit. His response? “It doesn’t have to be only Birzeit. The books can be split between there and Nablus, for example.” He clearly didn’t understand what the woman was asking or the deeply Zionist underpinnings of his response.

In his irrelevant response that followed, Brunner recounted how he was not permitted to participate in the showing of his film in Ramallah because his participation would have constituted normalization. He was indignant that Palestinians would not want to engage in a cultural event with an Israeli in Ramallah. Again, he didn’t get it.

It is not for Mr Brunner to lecture or criticize us. It is not up to him to plot an ideal future for our books, one that is suitable to Zionist desires to relocate Palestinian identity to the confines of “Birzeit” or “Nablus”, “for example.” Nor is it for him to decide or even express an opinion on how Palestinians should conduct a non-violent anti-normalization struggle.

This is an important lesson for us. Just because an Israeli makes a film and admits that Israel murdered, dispossessed, robbed, disinherited, marginalized, and terrorized Palestinians, it doesn’t mean they really understand. It doesn’t mean that they have a right to our story. Most of all, it doesn’t give them a right to express their endless subtext of ineffectual Palestinian efforts. We know our weaknesses and we know our (official) leaders have fallen short of leadership. Given the magnitude of his societies crimes against the indigenous population and the fact that Israeli society keeps electing one war criminal after another to lead them, perhaps Brunner should focus his criticism at his own and just stick to that.

I recounted this story recently to a friend who is African American. He laughed, cut me off, and said, “Susie, you don’t need to explain it to me. I’m a black man. You know how many do-gooder white people have tried to lecture me on everything wrong in the Black community and what we need to do to fix it?”

The fact is that Mr Brunner’s film is wonderful and he’s being compensated for it, with whatever funds, fame or recognition the film brings. And while there is nothing wrong with an Israeli contributing to our narrative, it is not okay for him or her to try to frame that narrative or the discussion of our narrative. When an Israeli filmmaker cannot understand why an occupied, imprisoned, oppressed society might not want to normalize relationships with members of the occupier’s society, that filmmaker does not have the right to condescend and criticize. That is something that must be earned by Israelis, and there are certainly some who have. They are those who have truly joined Palestinian society in one way or another. People like Neta Golan and Amira Haas come to mind.

The fact is also this: For societies that have been stripped of everything tangible and intangible, so little remains. Some of us still have a little property left. Some still have the privilege to wake up and see the land our forefathers and foremothers roamed (and the price of that privilege is living under the hell of occupation). But the one thing we all still have is our narrative. Our collective story. Our societal truth that’s made up of millions of individual histories. We should all guard, protect, and propagate that. It’s ours. We are the natural descendants of every tribe that ruled or submitted in that land, every conqueror who passed through and raped our mothers, every battle, every harvest, every wedding. We didn’t step off European boats and proceed to kill, terrorize, or steal everything in sight. I’d like every liberal Zionist or Israeli leftist to remember that before he or she presumes to adopt a paternal tone that criticizes or tries to shape the Palestinian narrative or Palestinian struggle.

About Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, 2010) – www.morningsinjenin.com – and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine – www.playgroundsforpalestine.org.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Nakba, Occupation

{ 75 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Fritz says:

    Thank You for this powerful speech about the “good-doers” from the side of the oppressors. When I watched the documentary about the books some months ago I also shed tears and felt that this single crime tells so much more about the moral status of the founding of the state of Israel than many “disputed” claims about the events of the years 1946-1950 (e.g. Deir Jassin). However, we should be aware that many Zionist hasbara offices are working on this and will present their story about the books. We will hear from them.
    The second idea is about “a right to express their endless subtext of ineffectual Palestinian efforts”. To me everybody has a right to express ideas and near to all of them transport subtexts. The aim of a discussion is to speak about the framing of ideas and about subtexts. And I agree that even this documentary at least seems to tell a story of helpless Palestinians who don’t really care about books and that we should be happy that well educated librarians from the state of Israel took care of this valuable books over decades. This subtext should be exposed as it is: immoral and supremacist.

    • George Smith says:

      Allies should be welcomed!!

      Abulhawa: “The fact is that Mr Brunner’s film is wonderful and he’s being compensated for it, with whatever funds, fame or recognition the film brings.”

      But is it really true that he’s being compensated with what he values most? By all evidence, Mr. Brunner’s ambition isn’t funds, fame or recognition. He wants a just Palestine, as does Ms. Abulhawa. He may stem from recent colonial immigrant stock with a racist ideology, but still he’s Palestinian, a full citizen in the inclusivist Palestinian state to come. And is it not evident that Mr. Brunner loves these stolen books, values them as his heritage too? Has he not in his own way joined Palestinian society, like Neta Golan and Amira Haas? As Fritz somewhat timidly insists, “everybody has a right to express ideas,” and if a few of those ideas are informed by unpalatable, condescending “context,” the appropriate response is counter-context. I imagine Brunner would be completely receptive to his ideas about the disposal of the books being corrected. But that doesn’t mean he should be denounced. As Ms. Adulhawa herself emphasizes, Brunner is an ally, not an adversary, in what really matters on the ground.

      • W.Jones says:

        George,

        Are you sure Brunner is Palestinian? The P.A. defines Palestinians as those, including Jews, who lived in the Israeli state before its founding, correct? Perhaps this includes Brunner.

        If by “Palestinian” you mean a member of a possible future inclusive state to come, what is your point in giving Brunner this label, if it will apply to all Israelis regardless.

        You asked “And is it not evident that Mr. Brunner loves these stolen books, values them as his heritage too?”
        Isn’t that part of the problem of the book’s robbery in the first place? That the State confiscated them because it values them like Byzantine archeological sites, when in fact the artifacts are from those to whom the State is not dedicated?

        If a book was written in 1700 by a Palestinian scholar, how does that make it Mr. Brunner’s heritage, since his ancestors were not in Palestine at that time and he considers (I assume) Palestinians to be a separate group from his own?

        • W.Jones says:

          “As Ms. Adulhawa herself emphasizes, Brunner is an ally, not an adversary”. I think this is true.

          What did you mean when you said: “I imagine Brunner would be completely receptive to his ideas about the disposal of the books being corrected.”

          Brunner rejected the proposal made to him the books that came from various cities should be returned to them, although I don’t know why he did.

        • sardelapasti says:

          W. Jones – One more Zionist justifying normalization. That you don’t understand why he proposes to keep the originals in the hand of the *zi state and a hand a copy to a Palestinian university of what was stolen in now Arabenrein land, why he whines about being included in the cultural boycott, is hard to explain.

        • sardelapasti says:

          W. Jones – “If by “Palestinian” you mean a member of a possible future inclusive state to come, what is your point in giving Brunner this label, if it will apply to all Israelis regardless.”

          I am wondering who appointed you plenipotentiary of the as yet inexistent fully sovereign Palestinian nation. Please refer to MLK’s words about do-gooders who decide for others. Where do you get off trumpeting that all illegal invader pirates will get citizenship?

  2. American says:

    One of the hallmarks of ” Narcissistic Collectives”, which is what the Zionism cult actually boils down to, is maintaining their ‘story’ and self-image by destroying the history of any other people’s that might threaten them. Jewish ‘historical unity’ good for zionism—other people’s ‘historical unity’ bad for zionism.

    For Zionist, Jewish history is the Only History–there shall be no other people’s history in the world. Whether it’s Israeli Oren claiming America’s founding was created out of the idea of ancient Jewish kingdom or the making of the Holocuast into the only thing that counts in WWII—-it’s always the same—they will be no other people , there will be no other people’s history–they are the beginning, the end and the only world.

    In ancient times most, not all, but most, conquers destroyed all symbols, writings, anything that was part of the conquered’s history and traditions, anything shared that bound them together as a country or people to lessen any ‘unity’ among them so they would be less likely to rise up against their conquers.

    • seafoid says:

      Zionist history is made up and after 3 generations it really shows. Israeli kids are brainwashed by an educational system designed to turn them into soldiers of the occupation. And try and get a US Zionist to have an honest discussion about 1948
      while you wait for the slurs about antisemitism. But no answers. Because the history is bullshit.

      And Israel is a light unto the nations. Pull the other one.

      The bots could learn a lot about their future by studying why the ancient Jewish kingdoms collapsed but they prefer fairy stories.

    • Pamela Olson says:

      A settler I used to converse with on Facebook (I finally blocked the loon) had a website that implied Native American flutes (or rather flutes “made popular by the American Indians”) probably had origins in ancient Israel. I don’t want to link to it because I don’t want to drive traffic there, but you can google Shiloh flutes and see it yourself.

      One of those things where, if you were a cartoon character, your eyes would pop out and go “BOI-OI-OI-OI-OING!!!”

      • American says:

        “….that implied Native American flutes (or rather flutes “made popular by the American Indians”) probably had origins in ancient Israel”…….Pamela

        LOL …..of course, they invented everything, from irrigation to education to cherry tomatoes….why, did you know that no one would have computers or cell phones if it weren’t for the Israelis……or life saving drugs, almost forgot that one.

      • W.Jones says:

        Mormonism and the lost tribes? Also see British Israeliteism.

        • American says:

          Don’t laugh –but now the zios are trying to claim that native American Indians are part of the ancient Israelites tribe.

        • American says:

          If the zionist can’t destroy other people’s history, then they try to steal it and make it theirs. It’s really bizarre how they try to insert themselves into other’s history. They constantly try to search and find some Jewish linkage in public figures backgrounds like they did with Madeleine Albright and John Kerry. It’s almost like they want everyone on earth to be descendants of Jews…iow….like they want Jews to have been the “origin” of all mankind.
          If that’s their goal with all this they have to go back further and start a campaign to promote how the Neanderthals were Jewish.

          Search Results Are the American Indians of Israelite Descent?

          http://www.jewsforjudaism.org/index.php?option=com_content…id…Cached
          You +1′d this publicly. Undo
          Are the American Indians of Israelite Descent? The Book of Mormon purportedly tells the story of two entirely different early American peoples. The first is the …

          Native Americans & Jews: The Lost Tribes Episode – My Jewish …www.myjewishlearning.com/…/America…/Native_Americans_and_Je…Cached
          You +1′d this publicly. Undo
          In The Hope of Israel (1650), Ben Israel suggested that the discovery of the Native Americans, a surviving remnant of the Assyrian exile, was a sign heralding the …

          Home – NEGROES, LATINOS, AND NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS …www.therealhebrewisraelites.com/Cached
          You +1′d this publicly. Undo
          DEDICATED TO WAKING UP THE REAL HEBREW ISRAELITES WHICH ARE THE NEGROES, LATINOS, AND NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS TO THEIR REAL …

          Setting the Record Straight: Are Native Americans A Lost Tribe Of …www.native-languages.org/iaq9.htmCached – Similar
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          American Indian languages American Indian cultures What’s new on our site today! … Q: Did a lost tribe of Israel sail to America and join the Indians, maybe?

          Native American Indians Are NOT Israelites! – YouTube► 14:04► 14:04www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaAV1eEA0is
          Apr 29, 2012 – Uploaded by Igbo Judean
          This is a video response to all the people who claim that Native Americans are the Lost Tribes of Israel. I’m …Tribe of Gad (American Indian Hebrew Israelites) – YouTube► 10:27► 10:27www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r4NigaUsaA

          Jan 2, 2010 – Uploaded by WoeUntoBlasphemites
          TWELVE TRIBES OF THE TRUE NATION OF ISRAEL Judah – so called Negroes Benjamin – so called West …Indians, Mexicans are NOT Israelites. – YouTube► 10:47► 10:47www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRvYab5iu7A

          Nov 4, 2010 – Uploaded by the truth 708
          According to the Bible, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Native Americans are not “Israelites”. Theres are no …More videos for american indians are israelites »
          Where Did Joseph Smith Get His Ideas for the Book of Mormon?www.utlm.org/onlineresources/bomindianorigins.htmCached – Similar
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          Many of the books published on the American Indians claimed a possible tie to the lost tribes of Israel. The Book of Mormon follows this idea and claims that the …

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          Jul 10, 2008 – Despite the fact that no obvious proof could be found to substantiate the claim that Native Americans were the lost tribes of Israel, scores of …

        • W.Jones says:

          You mean Mormon Zios?

        • seafoid says:

          That destruction of all traces of another culture worked in the past but it is not going to fly today. Not with people like the Barghoutis or Reem Kanazi . STFU already Zionism.
          And the internet. All those videos on youtube.
          They only have 5.5 million borgs . They can’t stop people joining the dots.

      • Hostage says:

        There are parallels to the stolen books story reflected in the refusal of the United States to recognize the right of other nations to self-determination and to honor its treaties with Native American peoples.

        Israel is undoubtedly hoping that this is what the one state solution will look like. See the discussion and comments on “A Native American Mutual Defense Treaty Against Tar Sands Projects”
        link to opiniojuris.org

        • seafoid says:

          They picked a stupid site for their settlement project. Palestine is situated at a crossroads of global trade. No issues with disease resistance. The Palestinians spoke a language of global importance and were majority Muslim/Christian connecting them to other Arabic speakers and 2 global religions.

    • Citizen says:

      Didn’t the Romans adopt a significant amount of Greek culture, etc? I don’t think that’s the only historical example.

      • Citizen says:

        And didn’t the Greeks adopt a significant amount of Egyptian culture?
        Of course, going back to the Romans–if memory serves they allowed the Greeks autonomy. They copied, but didn’t literally steal their cultural heritage (and put them on a diet, and a full roman citizenship did not depend on one being an original Roman by blood), and say “nobody cared about it, but us. After all, we are the people of the book, the people who love books.”

      • American says:

        I read a while ago M Thompson’s book on Egypt and Rome during Cleopatra’s reign ……..interesting that Cleopatra’s lineage was both Greek and also Syrian even further back. Ancient ME rulers had the same practice as European royal family rulers of marrying off their heirs to foreign princes and princesses who were in line to be future rulers to establish alliances , so it produced a lot of cross culture and integrated bloodlines in the ME.

      • lysias says:

        The Persian Empire was very tolerant of the cultures of the peoples that it conquered.

  3. American says:

    I have a suggestion—the anti zionist should get together and sponsor Shlomo Sands to tour the US with the real history of the Jews and how it relates ( not) to Palestine and Israel.
    That would give more than a few Uber Zios and Uber Christos a stroke…..and bring more than a few liberal zios down to earth too….lol

    • MHughes976 says:

      I’m hoping and expecting that his publishers – he makes plenty of money for them – will arrange for speaking events in several countries for him in connection with his new book. I hope to attend the UK event. The historians and theologians on whose work he draws should come out further from their academic groves as well.

  4. dbroncos says:

    Excellent critique, Susan, thanks. It seems that the movie-maker sees himself as a detached researcher/documentarian and not as a participant in the narrative of I/P and as an Israeli beneficiary of the destruction and subjugation of Palestinian society.

    • W.Jones says:

      Or he sees himself as a pro-Palestinian who thinks he is trying to provoke them into working harder.

      As in (paraphrase): “This is really bad and Palestinians haven’t done anything about.”

      How about a tragic documentary about rape that concludes with a silent black screen saying “tragically most victims don’t do anything to prevent it”. It’s true and offensive, is it not?

  5. ritzl says:

    Great article! You showed real leadership in discerning and expressing your unease with the priorities espoused by the director. And thanks for the generally positive review. It’s hard for me to bring myself to watch films like this for fear of “the lecture” (i.e. that little subtextual passive-aggressive theme or dig at the end that really makes me grit my teeth, and which obscures the genuinely good parts with the unsettling “what’s the real message of this film?”). But thanks to this review, I’ll find this and watch it.

    MLK spoke of the difference between a “negative peace” and a “positive peace” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this situation that “negative peace” (lack of tension) was exhibited by Brunner’s lament that (and lack of understanding why) he was unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocked from presenting in Ramallah, as opposed to acceptance of that personal “denormalization” if it furthered the path to a “positive peace” (justice).

    Classic.

    “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]“: link to africa.upenn.edu

    16 April 1963

    …I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

    LfaBJ should be required reading for all “do gooders.”

    • ritzl says:

      I should add a huge h/t to soysauce/Sandra Tamari for pointing this out to me a while back. It would have taken me forever to make the connection/understand the universality/discern the applicability of MLK’s observation to the Palestinian cause without her insight. So, big thanks, soy.

      • American says:

        “but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” ”

        Ah, yes….and it’s also a pretense….give me some direct action outrage any day over the do nothingness and non urgency of moderates to justice.

    • W.Jones says:

      Hey, good point, Ritzl. Palestinians have done something to attempt to get their books back. (Rightly or not), they have banned him from presenting, as an objection to their mistreatment.

      Now I tend to think he really could have found some venues in the West Bank to present at. And the rejection might, at least indirectly, be related to his paternalist tone. If he spoke the language of one like Anarchists against the wall, they might make an exception…

      And AAW really did go in, by the way, as Israelis aiming to come in and organize unorganized Palestinians, but obviously with a different attitude of participation.

    • Donald says:

      “LfaBJ should be required reading for all “do gooders”.”

      Agreed.

      From the original post–

      “I recounted this story recently to a friend who is African American. He laughed, cut me off, and said, “Susie, you don’t need to explain it to me. I’m a black man. You know how many do-gooder white people have tried to lecture me on everything wrong in the Black community and what we need to do to fix it?”

      Exactly. There are some differences in detail, of course, but practically everything I read about with the I/P conflict has an analogy with white/black relations in the US, including the phenomenon of the patronizing liberal. I don’t mean to criticize this filmmaker in particular too harshly–just speaking in general of people who claim to empathize with Palestinians and yet somehow manage to put most of the blame for their suffering on their shoulders.

  6. RE: “. . . Israel’s systematic looting of over 70,000 books from Palestinian public and private libraries . . .” ~ Abulhawa

    MY COMMENT: There is a vignette dealing with this in “The Time That Remains” (2011) by writer-director Elia Suleiman.

    The Time That Remains (Le Temps Qu’il Reste) 2011 R 109 minutes
    From the creation of Israel in 1948 through the early 21st century, a Palestinian family experiences a myriad of triumphs and tragedies over the course of several generations in this sweeping drama from writer-director Elia Suleiman.
    Cast: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Avi Kleinberger, Menashe Noy, Amer Hlehel, Lotuf Neusser, Nati Ravitz, Yasmine Haj
    Director: Elia Suleiman
    Genres: Foreign, Foreign Dramas, Arabic Language, Hebrew Language, France
    Language: Arabic (English subtitles)
    This movie is: Understated
    Netflix format: DVD and streaming
    • Netflix listing – link to dvd.netflix.com
    • Internet Movie Database – link to imdb.com
    The Time that Remains trailer – English subtitles. A film by Elia Suleiman [VIDEO, 01:45] – link to youtube.com
    The Time That Remains | Film review by Philip French | The Observer | 5/29/10
    Elia Suleiman’s movie about life and death in the heat of the Middle East conflict is a cool, controlled minor masterpiece, says Philip French. – link to guardian.co.uk

  7. jon s says:

    Hey, don’t insult our couscous and hummus.

  8. martingugino says:

    ok.

    Reading the other comments – isn’t MLK awesome? Answer: yes he is.

  9. Sycamores says:

    Remi Kanazi – Normalize This!

  10. W.Jones says:

    Thanks for an interesting article.

    Imagine a white liberal’s documentary that critically described officially “white” US institutions (if there were such things) stealing Indian archeological remains for study and refusing to return them to the native tribes in the documentary. Imagine that such a movie ended by saying: “no attempts have ever been made to return any of these stolen remains.”

    What is the implication from the Indians’ failure to do this? That they should? The tribe is probably heavily assimilated into the white culture by now, and if the tribe is in some states like Pennsylvania, it might not even have an inch of reservation land to call its own, despite the fact that PA’s land was taken by trick or force from them. So I think the tribe should try to get its remains back, but it is probably in too weak a position to do so, and considering the abuses perpetrated might be rather low on the list.

    So Palestinians should attempt to get their books back! This is important, but it’s also understandable that these largely unorganized, impoverished, dispossessed natives are too weak to do it, and consider that abuses continue to build, the books might be understandably low on the list.

    By the way, I expect that there would really have been weak, failed attempts to get the books back over the last 65 years.

    • W.Jones says:

      I recounted this story recently to a friend who is African American. He laughed, cut me off, and said, “Susie, you don’t need to explain it to me. I’m a black man. You know how many do-gooder white people have tried to lecture me on everything wrong in the Black community and what we need to do to fix it?”

      I like this paragraph. :D

      • American says:

        I keep seeing too many problems in having Jews or Israelis too far into the Palestine movement. 7-8-9 times out of 10 their priority is still going to be themselves and Israel first.
        The best thing Israelis can do for Palestine is to go after Israel –really call it out on it’s crimes. …..the Palestine aren’t stupid, they can speak for themselves.

        The question is, if Brunner was interested or outraged enough about the Book Robbery to make a film about it….WHY hasn’t he formed a group or taken some action to get the books returned to Palestine….Huum? As a Jew and Israeli he would have a much better chance of getting thru whatever is required to get Israel to return the books than any Palestine demand would.

        • W.Jones says:

          Good point, American! If he thinks this is an important issue and feels responsibility for it, why not be part of that effort, instead of denouncing those he sees as victims for their weaknesses?

          I actually highly doubt Brunner’s claim that no one has tried at least weakly to get the books back. Considering the requests to get homes back, I’m sure at least 1 out of millions of refugees has tried to use some official channel to get their books back.

      • MRW says:

        Me too, W.Jones. Even though I am as white as white paper, do-gooder white people-ism is so colonial. Why don’t we work for justice and tolerance, which gives the oppressed the political/social/economic space and stage to address their own grievances without our Dewey cataloging, or interference?

        • W.Jones says:

          MRW,

          I think Israelis, recognizing their responsibility really should try to play an important role in achieving integration. Interference is fine: Anarchists against the Wall interfered in one village’s despondency and helped organize the village’s protests.

          However, this is quite different from smugly telling a victim that they haven’t done enough. How about doing a presentation on abused children and ending it by saying that abused children fail to lodge complaints against their parents? Or that starving Ethiopians fail to grow their own food in parched, deserted areas.

          On a list with preventing their kids from getting sniped at curfews, getting millions of refugees back, being able to farm their own land, getting protection from price tags, valuable literary heritage is probably low on the list for a dispossessed, unorganized, impoverished population. Not to mention Brunner’s point at the interview afterwards that the attempt would fail.

          His comment at the end that he does think the stolen books are his heritage too, reveals why he might not put alot of effort into getting the books back to their owners and why he might prefer to be smug about their dispossession, as if the disenfranchised have passively “assented” to his getting their books.

          Silence does not mean a victim agrees.

  11. yourstruly says:

    today?

    who are the palestinians?

    except for the occupiers?

    people living in palestine (or wishing to)?

    as well as all participants in the struggle for justice in palestine?

    there are jewish-american palestinians?

    day after day?

    increasing numbers & intensity?

  12. talknic says:

    Israeli propaganda has been oozing into people’s psyches for 64 years.

    If they’re under 64 it has been seeping in ALL their lives. Almost four generations have been subjected to the same. Far longer than the approximately 14 years conditioning that enabled the Nazi atrocities to pass seemingly unnoticed by the German people. 64:14 (32:7)

    If one counts the period from the beginnings of the Zionist colonization project, 114:14 (57:7)

    Added to which the Zionist colonizers have had almost 114 years practice at putting the right people in the right places to further their gaol. 114 years of carefully grooming world opinion in their favour. Only in the last decade of the internet has any meaningful examination and counter argument enmass been possible. 114:10 (57:5)

  13. kayq says:

    Nothing worse than Lib Zio’s telling Palestinians how to act. Yeah sure he’s a “good-doer” by helping get the Palestinian narrative across however it is not up to THEM whether it be Israelis, Americans, whatever to shape that narrative into whatever way it suits them.

    Good point Susan about the homes and the reclamation of homes. Also the comment at the end of the film about there being no attempt to reclaim these books. Well of course… Palestinians remaining in Israel probably have no idea what happened to their property if they did flee to another city, they probably thought their belongings got destroyed. Palestinians in Arab Countries and the Palestinian territories are not allowed to return to their homes, so of course there was no attempt at reclamation! and another good point about why transfer them to Birzeit, Ramallah or Nablus when they can be returned to their rightful places?

  14. mcohen says:

    dear susan abulhawa

    could you please elaborate on the concentration camps you mentioned in your article.this site has a strict policy of not allowing nabka and holocaust denial statements.
    i myself found little evidence of concentration camps in israel since its founding

    • i think they just built one for african refugees in the negev recently mcCohen. maybe it’s you who need to look up the definition of concentration camp.

      • mcohen says:

        annie

        here is a paragraph from the article

        “”". War crimes have no statute of limitation. Perpetrators are liable to punishment individually and victims are entitled to compensation in the same way as Jewish victims are now paid compensation of billions of dollars for their suffering in Nazi slave labour camps. The Japanese also compensated the Allied soldiers for the same. The guilt about civilians is much greater.

        Eitan, you may be able to contact one of the Israeli commanders of the camps and you may get some confessions from them – to relieve their conscience before they pass away.

        Justice shall prevail, however long it takes.

        Due to importance of your question, I have taken the liberty to circulate it to friends.

        Salman Abu Sitta”"”"

        the link to the full article here link to zochrot.org

        the attempt to equate the holocaust with the nabka is quite obvious

        • the attempt to equate the holocaust with the nabka is quite obvious

          the ‘equate’ is subject to your interpretation mccohen. either way this site is not dkos and posters here don’t partake in deciding what gets posted and what goes hidden.

          our comment policy about nakba and holocaust denial has not been violated by abulhawa’s post. if you have concerns otherwise you should take it up with adam and phil and not lecture our contributors about site policy, for every post that goes up on this site is reviewed before publication. mondoweiss is honored to have someone of such esteem as susan abulhawa contribute to our site.

        • lysias says:

          Speaking of the Holocaust, it would be interesting to compare what the Nazis did with Jewish scrolls and books that they seized. Didn’t a lot of them wind up in German museums and research institutes? It would also be interesting to know what happened to them after the war. I would imagine a lot of them were returned to somebody.

        • eljay says:

          >> the attempt to equate the holocaust with the nabka is quite obvious

          Crimes were / continue to be perpetrated, and those responsible must be held accountable. There’s nothing unjust or immoral about that.

          But because Zio-supremacist Jews were / are the ones who perpetrated / continue to perpetrate the crimes, they’re the ones who must be held accountable.

          And that makes Zio-supremacists like mcoheneee very uncomfortable and unhappy. :-(

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      mcohen:

      Nowhere did she say “concentration camp.” Rather, she discussed israel’s “forced labor camps.” She also cited to Dr Salman Abu Sitta. So even if you’re as ignorant as you post suggests, there is more than enough there for you to begin researching and learning on your own. Just because you’re ignorant doesn’t mean everyone is. Further, your statement implying that Ms. Abulhawa is a slander, a libel, typical of vile israeli apologists. Pitiful.

    • W.Jones says:

      Mcohen,

      Have groups of the native population ever been pushed into and concentrated in Israeli-run camps?

      Weren’t Palestinian or Lebanese POWs put into harsh Israeli-run camps during one of the Lebanon wars?

  15. mcohen says:

    but the director did make a good point.why had no one claimed the books.all property should be reclaimed, so why not start with the books.after all the “people of the book”as the jews are called by moslems value books more than people.
    how ironic said gin to tonic

    • all property should be reclaimed

      you think? including the mansions they were stolen from?

      • mcohen says:

        annie

        arab palestinians are entitled to a absolutely hard core full reclaim.books mansions teepees horses kennels buffalo the lot

        heres why……..-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_exodus_from_Arab_and_Muslim_countries

        A body representing the Jewish refugees, the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) estimated in 2006, that Jewish property abandoned in Arab countries would be valued at more than $100 billion, later revising their estimate in 2007 to $300 billion. They also estimated Jewish-owned real-estate left behind in Arab lands at 100,000 square kilometers (four times the size of the state of Israel).[3][9][26][27] estimated by Sidney Zabludoff to be at minimum $700 million in period prices and $6 billion today.[9] The organization asserts that a major cause of the Jewish exodus was a deliberate policy decision taken by the Arab League.[28] In 2007, a Jewish advocacy group JJAC (Justice for Jews from Arab Countries) has too alleged that Arab League members formulated a coordinated policy to expel or force the departure of the Jewish population.[29][30][31]

        itzik yes you -i am talking to you -habib-give the palestinians there books back NOW ……WHATever

        • Usual hasbara. Perhaps you’d be better employed calculating the real estate and property values which Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed of.

        • Woody Tanaka says:

          “itzik yes you -i am talking to you -habib-give the palestinians there books back NOW ……WHATever”

          If some Jews have a viable claim against a foreign government, that in no way ameliorates the evil done by the israelis against the Paletinians.

        • Avi_G. says:

          A body representing the Jewish refugees, the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) estimated in 2006 [...]

          Refugees my foot.

          The day will come when trolls on this website will stop regurgitating refuted propaganda.

          Until that day comes, however, they should know that the only people the organization in question represents is the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has always sought to create parity between the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews emigrating to Israel.

          As Israeli scholars have already documented, the myth advanced by the likes of mcohen is exactly that, a myth.

          link to haaretz.com

          link to haaretz.com

          And readers should also note that Israeli agencies carried out terrorist campaigns in countries like Egypt and Iraq in order to push Iraqi and Egyptian Jews to leave for the mythical promised land. See the Lavon Affair as just one example among several well-documented examples.

          In addition, perhaps if mcohen really gave a rat’s ass about Mizrahi Jews, he would be campaigning for their equal treatment in today’s Israel at the hands of an Ashkenazi-centric government and society.

          Incidentally, the Egyptian government has recently filed a complaint with the Israeli government requesting Israel return the money its troops had stolen from Egyptian banks in the Sinai and distributed among themselves when they invaded the Sinai and occupied it in 1967, not to mention the estimated 250 Egyptian POWs who were executed after being captured by Israeli forces.

          No wait. I get it. The current Egyptian government is run by anti-Semites, so there’s nothing to see here. Right?

          Zionists be lying. What else is new?

        • mcohen says:

          Gee avi

          Refugees my foot. which foot left or right

          so according to you the whole claim is a lie,there were no refugees-is this the same guy in the haaretz article

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          Shenhav is a well-known figure in Israel as a public intellectual and as one of the founders of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, a social movement founded in 1996 by descendants of Jewish refugees, Olim, from Arab countries, which defines itself as an extra-parliamentary movement seeking to challenge the ethnic structure in the Israeli society.

        • Avi_G. says:

          mcohen says:
          February 19, 2013 at 2:06 am

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          Shenhav is a well-known figure in Israel as a public intellectual and as one of the founders of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, a social movement founded in 1996 by descendants of Jewish refugees, Olim, from Arab countries, which defines itself as an extra-parliamentary movement seeking to challenge the ethnic structure in the Israeli society.

          It must be a relief to be able to edit Wikipedia.

          But tell me, did professor Shenhav himself write that Wikipedia entry that includes the term “refugees” which you cite as proof of….something?

          Don’t answer. It’s a rhetorical question.

          Here’s a direct link to the movement of which prof. Shenhav is a member:

          link to ha-keshet.org.il

          Nowhere in the description does the movement use the term “refugee”.
          FYI, next time, I won’t bother replying to your posts.

        • mcohen says:

          Zionists be lying. What else is new?

          come come avi -lazy thinking

          you should consider a third force a wedge that is not zionist nor supports zionist ideology but supports jews worldwide including those jews called israeli.
          israel as a country is only 60 years old and still evolving,a project in its infant stages,who knows what the future holds.

          but the “country” that is judaism is going from strenght to strenght

        • mcohen says:

          gee avi

          “But tell me, did professor Shenhav himself write that Wikipedia entry that includes the term “refugees” which you cite as proof of….something?”

          why would i need proof -my friends are iraqi jews who left iraq and israel for a better life elsewhere

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          The critical change in Iraqi Jewish identity occurred after the violent Farhud or pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad, on June 1–2, 1941 following the collapse of the pro-Nazi Golden Square regime of Rashid Ali al-Kaylani. At least 180 Jews were killed during two days of riots, and the Baghdadi Jewish community was irreversibly hit. After the Farhud, Jews began fleeing Iraq at an increasing rate.

        • mcohen says:

          gee avi…………………..It must be a relief to be able to edit Wikipedia.

          “See the Lavon Affair as just one example among several well-documented examples.”

          examples of what -influencing american and british positions on israel

          what has that got to do with jewish refugees from arab countries-absolutely nothing
          in fact in 2005 those israelis that took part in the “lavon affair” were awarded citations by the israeli government

        • mcohen, are you suggesting the lavon affair had no impact on the expulsion of jews from egypt that followed shortly thereafter?

          speaking of jewish refugees from arab countries, i recommend ‘Israeli hasbara effort– ‘Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries’– gets pushback from Baghdadi Jews’

          link to mondoweiss.net

        • Avi_G. says:

          Gee, mcohen, nice propaganda.

          Everyone suddenly has “friends” when he needs to work up the credibility to make whatever asinine statement he or she wishes.

          But since the topic of discussion is about Iraq, I’ll have you know that my own family is from Baghdad. I don’t need imaginary “friends” to make a point.

          Anyway, the so-called persecution that took place in Iraq during the time period you mentioned was in fact a result of anti-Communist persecution. Both Jews AND Moslems suffered as a result. To turn that into a Jewish-only issue with your “pro-Nazi” shtick that you and your ilk like to trot is typical of someone who gleans bits of irrelevant information from the internet and then marches over here to spill it all out as proof of some factual, accurate, scholarly evidence, never mind your pathetic reference to “refugees” on that Wikipedia page.

          Gee….

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      Why do you think the parasites that stole the books in the first place, along with so much else, including the land, would return them?

    • eljay says:

      >> after all the “people of the book”as the jews are called by moslems value books more than people.

      It’s a shame that, according to you, Jews put a greater value on books than they do on people. Unless it’s only Zio-supremacist Jews who do this.

  16. Woody Tanaka says:

    This article was excellent. Very eye-opening and yet another indictment that even those among the israelis who aren’t flat out evil have serious issues.

  17. MHughes976 says:

    I agree that there’s an element of 2-statism implicit or more than implicit in the suggestion of forming a Palestinian cultural capital at Birzeit. But give me a do-gooder over an evildoer any day of the week. MLK is mentioned but it is surely clear that he spoke of Palestine (see his Easter sermon on that subject) in discreet and moderate terms.

  18. MRW says:

    Great article. Even better are the points she makes. Yahoo! A wonderful STFU.

  19. I am reminded of the feeling I got watching an Iraqi man trying to hold back the tears after the Iraqi museums were looted as US troops stood by.

  20. This is a very interesting article. I appreciate the author’s review of the film and some of her thoughts about who has the right to narrate her story. Nevertheless, there are real problems with some of her remarks, and I am surprised that (apparently) almost everyone who has commented here has not noticed them.

    Ill pick the most obvious example: her defense of the refusal to allow Brunner to participate in the showing of his film in Ramallah. From what Ms. Abulhawa wrote, I cannot see how this this refusal can be justified. Imagine if a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship had made this film. I cannot imagine that the “anti-normalization” crowd would have objected to his participation in the showing, regardless of what his political views were, how much he had benefited from his place in Israeli society, etc.

    The fact appears to be that Brunner was not allowed to participate because he is a Jewish Israeli rather than an Arab Israeli, and he has every right to take offense at this racially-based exclusion. That Ms. Abulhawa criticizes him for doing so puts her in a position of defending acts of racial prejudice.

    Whatever Ms. Abulhawa thinks about who should or should not tell narratives, she should apparently be more aware of her own bitterness, no matter how much she and her people have suffered from racist actions. Otherwise, her bitterness may lead her even further down the road towards a racism of her own.

  21. Susan Abulwaha- You write: after Jewish gangs in Palestine proclaimed the state of Israel and ethnically cleansed the native population.

    I object to your use of the term “Jewish gangs” to describe Ben Gurion and the founders of the state. If you had written “Jewish criminals”, vis a vis their kicking your people off the land, I’d have “accepted” your language. And to a degree I appreciate the term gangs, because it exculpates me vis a vis their deeds (kicking people away from the land) which are not near to my personality except in the past in moments of weakness and desperation and are not near the frame of mind of my now or I hope my future mind.

    But even if I feel it useful to begin to imagine a past when the war refugees had been allowed back in as a result of the armistice of 49, I “accept” the act of the exiling and the proclaiming of the state and I feel that “gang” is rhetoric and I wonder if there is ever a situation when Jews with pistols in their hands are considered valid so that the term “gang” is a phrase of derision that they do not deserve.

    The story (part of my consciousness of his personality) of Ben Gurion with a pistol in his hometown extorting protection money from Jewish store owners, seems to back up the phrase “gang”. The use of force as a form of survival receives a different meaning when the pistols in the hands are those of the partisans in the forest near Vilna (i imagine the forest). Listen, if you will to understand the other, zog nicht keynmol sung by paul robeson among others and then note the lyrics:
    This song is written with blood and not with lead (pencil)
    this is not a song of a bird that is free
    this is a people (folk) with the walls fallen in
    this song is sung with pistols in the hands.
    So to me the pistol in Ben Gurion’s hand is juxtaposed to the pistol in Hirsch Glick’s hand (he, a partisan in vilna wrote the words to an old odessa marching tune) rather than to the pistol in the hand of those who exiled your people.

    the transposition of the jewish future from its situation 135 years ago concentrated in eastern europe to its present today 40% in america and 39% in Israel and 21% spread out, didn’t occur out of ‘gangdom’ although the use of violence and the continued “pistols in the hands” is part of the middle eastern story of the Jewish people.