January 26, 2012
Thousands of the books were recycled into paper while others were absorbed into the library’s general collection, making it impossible to trace them today. Six thousand of these books were eventually categorized as foreign and placed in the Eastern Studies Department of The National Library, although technically still owned by the Custodian of Absentee Property. The fate of these books is much like that of the Palestinian people: unlawfully taken from their homes, expelled and made foreign in their own land...From an interview with Benny Brunner at Guernica in 2011:
In 1997, Benny Brunner became the first director to produce a documentary unveiling the story of the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe. Today he is the first to make a documentary about the systematic looting of 70,000 Palestinian books during the war of 1948, The Great Book Robbery.
Although Palestinians who fled their homes during the conflict in 1948 knew that many of their personal belongings were looted, few realized there was a systematic campaign to confiscate their books.
Between May 1948 and February 1949, thirty thousand books, manuscripts, and newspapers were seized from the abandoned Palestinian homes of west Jerusalem while forty thousand books were taken from urban cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, and Nazareth. Many of the books were later marked with just two letters — “AP” for abandoned property — and embedded in Israel’s national collection, where they remain today.
Benny Brunner: ...The Zionist narrative of 1948 or the official narrative (which, by the way, not many Israelis still believe these days) states that we didn’t kick the Palestinians out, they left on their own, their leaders told them to leave for a couple of weeks and they thought they’d be able to come back after they’d kicked the Jews in the sea. So it was rewritten to show the Jews in a more positive light.
...I do believe that the initial drive to confiscate the books was a noble one. Instead of these books being destroyed or looted by individuals, they wanted to keep them safe. You have to remember that there was a tremendous amount of looting taking place at the time in various parts of the country, such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa — everywhere where there was fighting and communities were fleeing. Even in Jerusalem, the Palestinians themselves were looting Palestinian homes. So the initial drive was noble. But very quickly it changed and the Palestinian books became “our” books, “our” cultural heritage, and the National Library is a very important Israeli cultural institution now. So indeed these books are part of “our” cultural heritage; they have been taken, and I think the books represent the loss of Palestinian cultural heritage.