AJE: The Great Book Robbery

Posted: January 22, 2013 by Rex Brynen in 1948

From al-Jazeera’s Witness documentary programme “Witness” (first broadcast May 2012):

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?

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