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Film: The Great Book Robbery

Thursday, May 15, 2014 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Presented by Toronto Palestine Film Festival

Farewell my Library! Farewell Mansion of Wisdom, Temple of Philosophers, Institute of Science, Council House of Literature!
Khalil Sakakini (1878-1953), Palestinian scholar, poet, educator and Arab nationalist.

On May 15, Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the systematic expulsion of the Palestinian people by Zionist militias that began in late 1947 and lasted through 1948 and beyond.

As well as land and properties, a lesser known aspect of that expulsion is that Israel looted Palestinian homes over their cultural treasures, among them books, manuscripts, personal papers, photographs and works of art.

The Great Book Robbery tells the story of the systematic looting in 1948 of tens of thousands of Palestinian books in a joint operation by the Haganah – what became the Israeli army – and the Israeli national library.

This untold story of the Nakba has remained hidden over the years until, by complete accident, Israeli graduate student Gish Amit stumbled across archives documenting the systematic looting of Palestinian books. “I came across this topic quite accidentally,” Gish admits. “I spent the first few months of my doctoral studies at various archives, among them the archive of the Jewish national and university library, where one day, I discovered the first documents regarding the collecting of the Palestinian libraries left behind during the 1948 war. Anyhow, it took me a few more weeks – and dozens of documents – to realize that there was a story to tell. A story that hasn’t yet been told and one that might enrich our knowledge about the Palestinian culture and its erasure.”


Need to know:
– Doors open at 6:50
– Free
– Accessible on demand via portable ramp; washrooms not accessible
– Please avoid using strong-scented products due to sensitivities

Tasty refreshments (non-alcoholic) with Zatoun oliveoil+za’atar dipping.

More information taken from the film website
30,000 BOOKS WERE SYSTEMATICALLY “COLLECTED”, DURING THE 1948 WAR, FROM ARAB NEIGHBOURHOODS IN WESTERN JERUSALEM BY THE NEWLY BORN STATE OF ISRAEL.

The drive to “collect” the books came from the management and librarians of Israel’s National Library – a leading cultural institution of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel – where all the valuable books ended up. Another 40,000 Palestinian books were “collected” in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and other places.

Today, about six thousand of the these books can be found on the shelves of the National Library, organised like a fossilized army of a dead Chinese emperor, accessible but lifeless, indexed with the label AP – Abandoned Property.

This entirely unknown historical event came into light by chance; an Israeli PhD student – while researching in various state archives – stumbled upon documents from 1948-9 that mentioned “collecting books in Arabic from occupied territories.”

The plunder affair is a remarkable illustration of how one culture emerges from the dust of another after it has laid it to waste; the moment Palestinian culture is destroyed is also the moment a new Israeli consciousness is born, based not only on the erasure of the Arabs’ presence in Palestine but also on the destruction of their culture.

Dramatic new light illuminates the disaster inflicted upon the Palestinian people and their culture in 1948. A particularly chilling document from March 1949 lists tens of Jerusalemites whose libraries were “collected” – it reads like a Who’s Who of the Palestinian cultural elite of the time.

For decades Zionist and Israeli propaganda described the Palestinians as “people without culture.” Thus, the victorious Israeli state took upon itself to civilise the Palestinians who remained within its borders at the end of the 1948 war. They were forbidden to study their own culture or to remember their immediate past; their memory was seen as a dangerous weapon that had to be suppressed and controlled.