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The great book robbery of 1948

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A new documentary reveals a hidden chapter in the history of the Nakba -- the Palestinian expulsion and flight at the hands of Zionist militias as Israel was established in 1948 -- which saw the systematic looting of more than 60,000 Palestinian books by Israeli forces and the attempted destruction of Palestinian culture.

As the violence which came to mark the formation of Israel erupted, Palestinian families living in the urban centers and villages of the country fled their homes in search of safety and refuge. One Palestinian family after another escaped, and believing that they would soon return, many left behind their most precious belongings. As Palestinian homes sat silent in the haze of conflict, however, a systematic Israeli campaign was underway to enter the homes and rob them of a precious commodity -- their books.

Between May 1948 and February 1949, librarians from the Jewish National Library and Hebrew University Library entered the desolate Palestinian homes of west Jerusalem and seized 30,000 books, manuscripts and newspapers alone. These cultural assets, which had belonged to elite and educated Palestinian families, were then "loaned" to the National Library where they have remained until now. Furthermore, across cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias and Nazareth, employees of the Custodian of Absentee Property gathered approximately 40,000-50,000 books belonging to Palestinians. Most of these were later resold to Arabs although approximately 26,000 books were deemed unsuitable as they contained "inciting material against the State [Israel]" and were sold as paper waste.


Related: Book review: Two Palestinian women recall their lives in exil