A new book looks at the ways in which ancient religious manuscripts belonging to Yemenite Jews, as well as thousands of books owned by Palestinians and Holocaust survivors became part of Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem.
By Gish Amit (Translated by Shaked Spier)
The book “Ex Libris: History of Robbery, Preservation, and Appropriation in the National Library in Jerusalem,” addresses three affairs that took place within the walls of the Israeli National Library in Jerusalem: the robbery of Yemenite Jews’ manuscripts, which migrated to Israel during the 1940’s and 50’s; the collection of many thousands of book owned by Palestinians, which became part of the library’s collection; and the political struggles surrounding the redistribution of books belonging to Holocaust victims after World War II.
I argue that these three events are deeply intertwined in the way they reveal the manner by which Zionism has separated between people and their culture and heritage as part of the formation of national identity. The book’s epilogue, which is published here, aspires to think about the relationship between literature and socio-political violence. By doing so, it paints a new portrait of the National Library: not a site of secluded history, which is permanently decided and determined, but rather a continuous present tangled up with its own past — a space of injustice that also enables processes such as reparation, recognition and forgiveness.
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Mary Douglas wrote that objects are always encoded signs of social meanings. As a site of power creation and identity formation, the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem isn’t a place of knowledge, which is chosen in a naïve manner and free from hidden agenda, but rather a plac, in which knowledge is created, organized and sorted along the lines of ethnic, class, and national categories; a space that transforms objects into an inseparable part of a social reality that provides them with value according to its standards and needs. The three affairs described in the book “Ex Libris” couldn’t have happened unless Zionism had portrayed itself as the voice of the secret wishes of individuals and their communities, under the ethos of denial of (Jewish) exile; unless individuals had been transformed into objects serving a nation in its constituting phase, a nation that has left its mark on individuals and communities while claiming to speak in their name and redeem their culture, while at...Read More