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The Nakba and the ‘great book robbery’ of 1948

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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.

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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