When the Israeli military launched its blitzkrieg on Lebanon in 1982 and the siege of Beirut, one of its main targets was the files and archives of the PLO cultural department. When you try to destroy a people you also try to destroy their culture.
That is one reason why the Nazis burnt books of their opponents and why the setting on fire of synagogues was important to them. Coupled to the eradication of the Jews went the eradication of all traces of their presence (except as part of Nazi ‘museums’).
So too Israel’s attempt to deny the existence of the Palestinian people. Destruction of their cultural artifacts, historical documents, books etc. goes hand in hand with the Zionist theme that there is no such thing as the Palestinians. And to prove it they attempt to destroy their culture and history.
Palestinian villages were systematically razed to the ground in 1948-9 (with a few exceptions such as artist colonies near the site of massacres such as Tantura, Tel Aviv) in order to deny there was a people living there before the Jews ‘returned’.
Was the appropriation of Palestinian books and manuscripts in 1948 a case of cultural theft or preservation?
A film by Benny Brunner
When the Arab-Israeli war raged in 1948, librarians from Israel’s National Library followed soldiers as they entered Palestinian homes in towns and villages. Their mission was to collect as many valuable books and manuscripts as possible. They are said to have gathered over 30,000 books from Jerusalem and another 30,000 from Haifa and Jaffa.
Officially it was a ‘cultural rescue operation’ but for Palestinians it was ‘cultural theft’.
It was only in 2008 when an Israeli PhD student stumbled across documents in the national archive that the full extent of the ‘collection’ policy was revealed.
Using eyewitness accounts, this film tries to understand why thousands of books appropriated from Palestinian homes still languish in the Israeli National Library vaults and why they have not been returned to their rightful owners. Was it cultural preservation or robbery?