‘Great Book Robbery’ Seeks to Document Loss of Palestinian Books, then Recover Them

If I knew how to embed video...!

The Great Book Robbery: Chronicle of a Cultural Destruction is a new film (in progress) from Benny Brunner, Alexandra Jansse, and Arjan El Fassed.

According to their website:

60,000 Palestinian books were systematically looted by the newly born State of Israel during the 1948 war. The story of the stolen books is not only at the heart of our project but also the launching pad of a much bigger and wider endeavor: We intend on communicating the scope and depth of the Palestinian tragedy through the destruction of Palestinian culture in 1948.

You can follow the film’s progress on their blog (at the time of the last post, in late September, they were establishing story lines and key themes) and do contact them if you have information or a perspective to share on the great loss of Palestinian books.

This is a multi-part project, involving both the making of the film as well as a sort of digital “recovery” of the books. El Fassed said in a release:

We want to build a virtual interactive library for the 60,000 stolen books, find the books’ heirs and mobilize action to open access to these books. They have their own individual histories which make them an indispensable part of the fabric of cultural heritage.

Gish Amit, at The Jerusalem Quarterly, has a longer piece about the loss of these books. Amit briefly documents the librarians who followed in the wake of soldiers, taking Palestinians’ books, as well as the later (contested) history of those books. She, like the filmmakers, quotes writer Khalil Sakakini, who—when forced to leave his home—left behind grand piano, electric refrigerator, and a clearly beloved collection of books. He later wrote, from Cairo:

Farewell, my library! Farewell, the house of wisdom, the abode of philosophers, a house and witness for literature! How many sleepless nights I spent there, reading and writing, the night is silent and the people asleepā€¦ goodbye, my books!… I know not what has become of you after we left: Were you looted? Burnt? Have you been ceremonially transferred to a private or public library? Did you end up on the shelves of grocery stores with your pages used to wrap onions?

Although Sakakini didn’t live to know it, his daughter Hala apparently discovered his books in the Jewish National an University Library, full of his handwritten notes.

The “Great Book Robbery” website has already opened the start of a digital library to document these books and others stolen from Palestinian homes. (They are looking for translators to help with this part of the project.)

Thanks to The Arabist for pointing me this way.

Watch: The Great Book Robbery (teaser) from Benny Brunner on Vimeo.