Stolen Books, Stolen Identity:

ap-1-corrThis via the excellent Arab Literature (in English) blog:

What Did Israel Do with Palestinians’ Literary Heritage?

Nora Lester Murad recently went to see Benny Brunner’s film, The Great Book Robbery:

By Nora Lester Murad

The camera follows two Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from the counter at Israel’s National Library to a table. They carry a small stack books from a collection labeled “AP” for “Absentee Property.”  They sit in front of them awestruck. They touch covers showing respect for the books, their rightful owners, and the Nakba that caused Palestinians to lose their country and heritage.

One of the Palestinians opens a book and finds “Khalil Sakakini” written by hand in the inside cover. He gasps. The audience watching the film, crammed into the basement floor of Educational Bookshop on Salah Al-Din Street in Jerusalem, is captivated.  I crane my neck to see past the tall woman in front of me. The importance of this book, a one-time possession of one of the Arab world’s most important educators and nationalists, jumps off the screen. I feel an unspoken sadness in the room as we grasp the reality: This priceless piece of Palestinian heritage, and so many others, is held by Israel’s National Library.

This scene is one of many gripping scenes in the film, “The Great Book Robbery” shown for the first time in Palestine on January 12, 2013 to an audience of almost 150 people. The documentary by Israeli-Dutch director Benny Brunner unfolds the story of at least 70,000 books looted from Palestinian homes and institutions in 1948. Benny Brunner, a longtime maker of films says of himself: “His work is subversive in nature and has proven to be a thorn in the collective Israeli establishment’s backside.”

It is widely known that when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from Palestine before and after the establishment of Israel, most Palestinian land and belongings were lost. This film, however, highlights the plight of books. It’s a story that isn’t well-known, and to lovers of books, it is particularly tragic.

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2 opinions on “Stolen Books, Stolen Identity:”

  1. Ah books. I have left many “behind” in places I permanently departed for one reason or another. I have bought some of them back many times over. Others I simply forget. Not pretty but there it is. I leave too much I guess. The truth will out.
    I suspect the books in question were left by those that valued them less than the Israelis who seem to have preserved them in their National Library. What should they have done, burned them? True lovers of books would be thankful. Benny Brunner “says of himself.” Love that line. Yes, yes Benny, do go on about yourself. He rather fancies “himself” as a dangerous radical I gather. I rather fancy myself as greatly amused. The pompous do that for me. If the work really was “subversive in nature” and a “thorn in the collective Israeli establishment’s backside” one suspects it would no longer exist. Instead it is available, like the books he bemoans, for all to see. I’m sorry, I don’t get the problem. The books were left behind. The Israelis don’t go to war over books. Apparently, those who left did not treat the books with the same reverence as the National Library.
    What is “widely known” outside the 150 viewers of Benny’s screen triumph is that the Arabs voted against the United Nations proposed partition in 1947. They rejected the 2 state solution readily accepted by the Israelis. Of course, the Israelis made something out of their land. At the time, one independent state for the approximately 500,000 Jews included an Arab population of 400,000. The one for the 725,000 Arabs included an overwhelming 10,000 Jews. Clearly this was too many to bear. Even having Jerusalem maintained as an international area was an alleged affront. Those Arabs who left did not all do so on the run or at the point of a rifle. Those firing guns, throwing stones and causing trouble did. One suspects they would have left anyway. Its hard to fire rockets undetected without some distance being established. Those that stayed worked, farmed and raised their families. They kept their books. The runners did not. They travelled light. Books are heavy.
    The “plight of books” should be about those that go in the garbage or are cast by the road. That is “the plight of books.” To find a home in a National Library is not “the plight of books.” It is their Heaven.

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