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Delegation of librarians and archivists headed to Palestine as ‘truth-seekers and info-skeptics’

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Here is a great cause if ever there was one: 18 librarians and archivists from North America and Europe will be traveling out to Palestine this summer to help preserve cultural materials and records there and, when they return, to seek to challenge western myths about Palestinian cultural life.
There’s an Indiegogo fundraising campaign for Librarians and Archivists to Palestine here, with 2 weeks left. (They’re trying to raise $10,000. I’m giving some money right now.)
Four of the organizers are librarians in the NY area, among them my friend Hannah Mermelstein, who writes: 
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. 
The group’s website describes a two-week trip starting in late June: 

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.
Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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7 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on April 26, 2013, 2:32 pm

    What makes them so confident they will get in? I hope they have done their homework see here..

    • Hostage on April 28, 2013, 4:41 pm

      What makes them so confident they will get in?

      The Palestinian archives surely have a giant lacuna that can only be filled by returning the stolen documents in Israel’s state archives that were captured during the wars in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

    • AlGhorear on April 29, 2013, 7:58 pm

      Publicizing their plan and names may be the mistake that ensures they’ll never make it past the airport. The last thing Israel wants is a peaceful delegation that plans on visiting Palestinians in the West Bank.

      When I visited the West Bank in 2002, the ISM suggested we tell border/airport officials that we’re going to a Jewish friend’s wedding in Tel Aviv, or something similar. I chose to say I wanted to visit Christian sites.

      During my 6 1/2 hours of questioning by Israel “security” officials in Eilat , I was interrogated first by a blonde with blue eye shadow who screamed questions at me, asking over and over again “Who told you to come here?” and “Where are you goingk?” in a Russian accent that sounded like Natasha in Bullwinkle.

      Next it was Tal Moran, the only official I met who had a name tag in English. He examined everything in my possession and searched my laptop. He was much softer in his approach but also the most intrusive.

      Finally, it was the cordial “good cop” who took me back to his office for coffee and small talk about Palestinians who “killed a settler family in the West Bank just because they were Jewish.” Then he said “What is to be done with such a people?” He offered me coffee that was brought in by a woman who was an Ethiopian Jew. He made a derogatory comment about her limitations, too, but made sure to tell me how much better she was than Palestinians.

      I didn’t know if he believed these things or was just trying to provoke a response from me, but I held my tongue until he asked: “How do I know you’re not here to help the Palestinians?” I answered truthfully “How can I help the Palestinians?” He looked a bit surprised but then just shrugged and nodded.

      After that I sat in the waiting area for hours and finally I got a 10 day visa. As he handed me my passport back, he said “Visit Masada. That’s the only way you’ll understand us.”

      I had no idea what Masada was at the time, but now when that subject comes up here on Mondoweiss, I think back to his comment. I don’t know if even he thought another Masada was likely, but I’m convinced he wanted me to believe it was.

  2. Fritz on April 26, 2013, 5:15 pm

    This is a very important endeavor. I look forward to hear more about the outcomes of this project. Is it by accident that all organisors are women (see the group’s website)?

  3. DICKERSON3870 on April 26, 2013, 7:17 pm

    RE: “There’s an Indiegogo fundraising campaign for Librarians and Archivists to Palestine here, with 2 weeks left. (They’re trying to raise $10,000. I’m giving some money right now.)” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: I’m over my donation budget for this month, but I will make a contribution to ‘Librarians and Archivists to Palestine’ early next month.

    P.S. I am also going to make a second contribution next month towards the completion of Alice Rothchild’s very worthwhile documentary.
    INFO: “The Palestinian narrating, and the Jew listening — a new film about the Nakba”, by Alice Rothchild, Mondoweiss, 4/20/13
    TO DONATE (at Indiegogo) –

  4. Donna Nevel on April 27, 2013, 7:53 am

    This sounds like an amazing delegation and undertaking. I love what Hannah Mermelstein said: “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.”

  5. OlegR on April 28, 2013, 10:18 am

    I suggest that they don’t bother with the trip since they apparently already know exactly what’s going on so there really is no point.

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