We’re really excited about the delegation, and all our friends in Palestine are too – Institute for Palestine Studies, Tamer Institute, Birzeit, Zochrot, others. Everyone we’ve reached out to has been overwhelmingly positive. It feels like a delegation that has more potential for exchange and for effective follow-up work than any other I’ve worked with.
We will travel as truth-seekers and information-skeptics, eager to dispense with the superficial and inaccurate portrayals of life in Palestine/Israel that we see in the west and to learn about the realities of life under occupation and settler colonialism. As library workers, we support access to information, and we recognize that this goes in more than one direction. Our trip will shed light on how Palestinian voices and information about Palestine reach us (or do not) and how Palestinians access (or cannot access) information. We will bear witness to the destruction and appropriation of information, and support efforts to preserve cultural heritage and archival materials (of all kinds) in Palestine. Upon return to our communities, we will share what we have seen, apply what we have learned, publicize projects we have visited, and otherwise break down barriers to access in any way we can.
During the delegation, we will spend time in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel. In the future we hope to send a small delegation to visit Palestinian libraries and archival projects in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In all our travels, we will respect the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and will not partner with any organization that violates this call.
Mermelstein told me they’ll visit not just libraries, but Balata Refugee camp and other atypical locations for the collection of cultural and historical materials:
We’re also going to be visiting prisoner libraries and self-curated collections, historic archives and libraries in Jerusalem, Nablus, and elsewhere; public, school and childrens’ libraries across the country. We’re also organizing several roundtables and public meetings where all librarians and archivists can attend, and hopefully have conversations about mutual interests and challenges.One thing that I would say is unique about this delegation is that, rather than situating itself only as a politics of “witness,” it takes seriously and centres a politics of common struggle. Some of the questions and conversations we hope to have in Palestine are about learning from Palestinians about how they have dealt with the challenges of austerity, reclaiming and securing libraries as necessary public goods, developing archives and archival practices that are attuned to the needs of ongoing justice movements. The delegation itinerary is being developed through regular consultation and discussion with people in Palestine, and the roundtable discussions are all being crafted locally. We want to develop a process where we’re learning from each other, challenging and enriching each other as colleagues and equals.
Another organizer of the tour explains to me:
I do think that librarians and archivists are uniquely positioned to be involved in questions of denied history, cultural appropriation, and the interaction between academic freedom and an indigenous call for strategic boycott. People in Palestine have been forced to develop creative ways to preserve cultural memory, and we are so excited to meet with some of the amazing people who are engaged in this work.