Yet another example of the erasure of Palestinian culture by the Israelis

by ray goodlass

13 January: last night I went to a premiere documentary screening of ‘The Great Book Robbery’ by Benny Brunner about 70,000 Palestinian books looted by the Israelis in 1948, which was followed by a Q&A. I felt very privileged to attend, it connected me directly and once more with the Palestinian struggle, and so gave my peace quest a shot in the arm, much needed after a few days of venturing into Israel, though thankfully staying in East Jerusalem. 

The screening was hosted and promoted by the Educational Bookshop, where I found out about it, and though there were screenings in the bookshop’s basement screening room and in the upstairs cafe both venues only seated a few people, so I saw it next door in the Institut Francais, a French cultutal centre. I had noticed the Institute from the street every time I passed by, and was keen to have an excuse to go inside, so this was very timely. There are several such centres in Jerusalem, hangovers from the nineteenth century, when the European powers sought to protect church insititutions, serve pilgrims, gain influence with the declining Ottoman Empire, and get their feet in the newly emerging oil rich world. They still more or less serve the same functions, and though the Ottoman Empire is now long gone, the Arab world is very much with us instead.

Te film’s subect was yet another appalling example of the erasure of Palestinian culture, society snd history by the Israelis. Though the looting didn’t appear to have been carried out on the direct orders of the fledgling Israeli government the fact that most of it was done by Israeli soldiers, almost all of the volumes were stored in the Israeli National Library, catalogued by it, and are still there, speaks volumes about the complicity of the powers that be. The director of the Library refused to be interviewed by the filmmakers .

The Israeli intention is also evident from the fact that the Library refuses to give the volumes to Palestinian universities house and display.

There has also been no attempt to invite the original owners or their decendants to claim the books back, more evidence that Israel doesn’t want to give the Palestinians a toe hold on their cultural history.

I was also struck by the light some of the secretly filmed books shed on the ‘modernity’ of Palestinian culture between the two world wars. Perhaps this is another reson why the Israelis don’t want these books to become  public knowledge, in that it is part of Zionist propaganda that they were bringing modernity to the backward Middle East. These volumes also give the lie to that claim. 

So a very enlightening and rewarding end to the day, though as always, the discovery of even more Israeli conniving is discouraging – but at least this example has now been publicised.