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Scores of Palestinian books, Nakba's lesser-known victims

Some 70,000 books were seized from homes left empty by Palestinians who fled in 1948. The books, some of which are now in Israel’s National Library, attest to an attempt at the destruction of an entire culture.

By Karina Goulordava

June 1948: Israeli soldiers advance in an affluent Arab neighborhood, now almost deserted, in western Jerusalem. The soldiers are followed by several librarians from the national library. Sporadic gunfire is heard. The men cling against the walls as they arrive in a street lined with empty, affluent houses, their occupants having left in haste. Breaking into house after house, the librarians “collect” entire libraries into boxes that are loaded onto trucks. Similar scenes are repeated throughout the Arab neighborhoods of western Jerusalem, and later on in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and elsewhere. In total, 70,000 Palestinian books were “collected” in this manner.

In 1948, after the Arab rejection of the UN partition resolution of November 1947, the new state of Israel used its military power to conquer as much land – initially designated for an Arab state –  as it could, and to cleanse the newly occupied territories of their Arabs inhabitants. At the time, the book plunder was a mere sideshow of the main events of the war. But seen through a wider historical perspective, the looting of the books, together with the destruction of Palestinian urban centers, constitute the destruction of an entire culture and an important outcome of the 1948 war.

Thousands of the books were recycled into paper while others were absorbed into the National Library of Israel’s general collection, making it impossible to trace them today. Some 6,000 of these books were eventually categorized as foreign and placed in the Eastern Studies Department of the National Library, although they are technically still owned by the Custodian of Absentee Property. The fate of these books is much like that of the Palestinian people: unlawfully removed from their homes, expelled and made foreign in their own land. Each book bears the label “AP” (abandoned property).

These books are the focal point of the multifaceted project, “The Great Book Robbery.” In 1997, Benny Brunner became the first director to produce a documentary unveiling the story of the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe” – the word used to describe the destruction and exile Palestinians experienced in 1948. Today, he is the first to make a documentary about the systematic looting of 70,000 Palestinian books during the war of 1948. Just as the Nakba became part of the international discourse on Palestine, the importance of Palestinian cultural preservation is also crucial to the discussion. In the film’s teaser, Nasser Eddin Nashashibi, one of the rightful owners of the books, describes what the loss meant to him. “I witnessed this with great…grief. A piece of poetry, a painting, a rare copy of the Koran, written by hand, decorated by gold. How could you bring these back?!”

Nashashibi’s personal inscriptions can still be found in a book that today sits on one of the cold, sterile shelves in the National Library. The digital library is a translation of the “collected” Palestinian books as they appear in the National Library online catalog. It documents 500 books with their titles, authors and owners’ names translated from Arabic into English. The ultimate goal is to list all 6,000 books, in an effort to acknowledge and record their true origins. Finally, the website serves as a space for information and discussion; its “Forum” offers a space for academics, librarians, students, journalists, filmmakers and others to share views on cultural preservation.

In 2006, PhD student Gish Amit was the first to discover documents attesting to the looting of the books. Amit researched the 6,000 AP books and their placement in the Eastern Studies Department of the National Library. Drawing on Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism, Gish writes that these books were “orientalized,” forced into the constructed notion of the orient. This project aims to reveal not only the plunder that took place, but the true identity of the books. By exposing this narrative, the project reveals a new aspect of the Nakba.

In the summers of 2010 and 2011, I traveled to Palestine and Israel, hoping to learn about the conflict first hand. Driving through Israel, I saw the hidden village ruins that are remnants of the Nakba. Walking through Jaffa, I noticed buildings with arched windows, a sign of Arab architecture, now Israeli homes. Similar events repeated themselves in Jerusalem. However, having always focusing on the reoccupation of homes and the displacement of people, I hadn’t been aware of the looting of tens of thousands of books that took place here nor considered the importance of preserving Palestinian national culture in the face of Israel’s occupation. The Great Book Robbery attempts to do just that.

Karina Goulordava is the Communications Manager for The Great Book Robbery project, which directed by Benny Brunner. The film The Great Book Robbery is due to be released in May 2012. Aljazeera English Network will broadcast the film.

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    COMMENTS

    1. One of the lesser known facts indeed. But a crucial one for the ongoing politicide. In the West pro-Israel politics are largely based on the assumption that Arabs are ignorant, cruel en centuries behind in culture. But recently Jim Al-Khalili wrote a wonderful book about the Golden Age of Arabic Science, something completely unheard of by most westerners.
      Great to see this article here. Just as the first Christians, as soon as they had power, destroyed all philosophical texts except for those of Plato and Aristotle, the current Judeo-Christian culture knows very well how to make a people’s history disappear. There is only one Lifta left, but maybe those books that survived can help change the myopic view of too many.
      And since I digressed already: is there anything on lost Palestinian art?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Palestinian

      Life , land ,homes , villages ,families, language agriculture ,ports , cuisine, costumes , traditions , weddings, poetry,books,arts ,folklore,music,schools, hospitals , municipalities , trains , buses ,currency , banks ….. oh a people

      Karina , highly appreciated ,you work and effort support justice

      Reply to Comment
    3. About six months ago there was an article about a large library of Palestinian books and manuscripts that survives intact in Jerusalem, cared for by the family that has always owned it. It was published in ‘This Week in Palestine’. I’ll try and hunt it down – it was fascinating and very relevant to what you’ve written here. Thank you, Karina – it’s important for people to realise how close the Nakba came to shattering this culture and heritage altogether.
      .
      “Just as the first Christians, as soon as they had power, destroyed all philosophical texts except for those of Plato and Aristotle, the current Judeo-Christian culture knows very well how to make a people’s history disappear.”
      .
      There are Jewish and Christian Palestinians. Always have been. Their heritage was lost too – I will never forget stepping into the ruined church at Al-Bassa (a destroyed village, its ruins lying on the outskirts of what is now Shlomi) and finding an old enormous Bible left in what was once the sanctuary of the church, its covers disintegrating. The sadness in that place was palpable. Religious texts, theological commentaries, personal prayer books – they were all lost. This isn’t about religion.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      The erasing of history by making books disappear. Has a 1984 ring to it. Come to think of it, has a 1938 ring to it too.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Zsolt Sandor

      I’ve been reading this-and-that about the Nakba, that jewellery was taken right from the fingers and necks of the fleeing, that carpets, furniture, ornaments and other valuables ended up either in official buildings, in the newcomers’ personal property, or even in museums and in galleries…
      Remind you of anything that happened only a few years earlier?

      Reply to Comment
    6. How come books being preserved in a National Library is an attempt at destructing a culture?
      Do you know what happened with jewish books in muslim countries? or during the Hollocaust? or During the crusades?
      While Israel keeps the books in the National Library… sure… Israel attempts to destroy a culture…

      Reply to Comment
    7. David

      Martin

      That is because the +972 definition of “evil” is “anything that Israel does”.

      Reply to Comment
    8. The first point is that the books currently in the National Library were stolen, along with the rest of their owners’ property. They may bear the misleading label ‘Abandoned Property’, but they weren’t thoughtfully picked up by employees of the municipal Lost and Found department after their owners happened to evaporate; they were looted by an army. Nasser Eddin Nashashibi saw his family library being looted in front of his own eyes, and he wasn’t the only one. He is explicitly quoted in the post above: “I witnessed this with great grief.” You want to try and paint this theft as some generous act of preservation, this ripping away of a heritage from its people?
      .
      Secondly, the archivists at the National Library took special care to disguise the books’ provenance by removing all signs of Palestinian ownership from the books – a former employee testified to this practice. These procedures were initially uncovered through the research of Gish Amit, who analysed the way in which the books have been treated during the cataloguing and classification process. Amit and his work are mentioned in this post, but you have skipped over that part too.
      .
      Finally, not all the books ended up in the National Library. Roughly 26,000 were sold as paper waste and pulped, because the librarians judged them to contain, and I quote, ‘inciting material against the State [of Israel].’ If you would like to read more on the creation of this documentary and the fate of the books, there is an article about it here, dated from 7th May 2011:
      .
      thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=3378&ed=193&edid=193
      .
      This reminds me – the other article I mentioned on the surviving family library in Jerusalem is here, ‘Within Are Precious Books’. It says that the library’s curator welcomes scholars to come and consult the books. Looks like a fascinating place to visit:
      .
      http://thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=3402&ed=194&edid=194

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yossi

      I will stop flagellating myself long enough to state that if there are claims of books looted then these can be resolved at a final settlement, just like property claims and of course Jewish communities destroyed by pogroms will also be able to claim “our” books from libraries in Syria and Iraq where I am sure they are also marked “AP” meaning Abandoned Property in these countries. Interesting to note that the quote ‘inciting material against the State [of Israel].’ is not attributed to anyone. Using This Week in Palestine as a primary source is a little feeble.

      Reply to Comment
    10. The doctoral thesis of Amit (original research) and the eyewitness interviews in the documentary are the primary sources. The ‘This Week in Palestine’ article is merely a descriptive piece about the making of the documentary and the people behind it. As the quotation on the books follows immediately on from a direct reference to interviews carried out with the library employee, I took that to be the attribution.
      .
      Lumping in injustices suffered by Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel with losses suffered by Jews elsewhere in the Middle East at other points in history is built on the not-so-subtle insinuation that all Arabs are the same, and that Palestinians have no business to be complaining about anything that happened to them because Syria has done XYZ. This argument doesn’t get any more logical with repetition. Syria has no bearing on final settlement agreements; such agreement is between Israel and dispossessed Palestinians. Acknowledgement of the Nakba and what it entailed for the people who lived through it is not something that can be left until last – it is fundamental, and it is something that has only recently started to happen. The Nakba shaped Palestinian society as it is today in a very powerful way, and for peace to happen people do need to understand that. Self-flagellation is not a prerequisite for understanding, just willingness to listen. Watching the documentary when it comes out in May would be a good place to start. I hope Amit’s thesis is published as a book too.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Carl

      Martin, I’ll agree with you providing you let me ‘preserve’ your property in my house next time you nip out to the shops. Deal?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Cortez

      “How come books being preserved in a National Library is an attempt at destructing a culture?
      Do you know what happened with jewish books in muslim countries? or during the Hollocaust? or During the crusades?
      While Israel keeps the books in the National Library… sure… Israel attempts to destroy a culture…”

      What does that have to do with Palestinians? They have no role in any of the things you mentioned. I’m still don’t understand why Palestinians as descendants of Jews, Arabs and Crusaders are being punished for the actions of Germans and Arabs in other countries. It just doesn’t make sense.

      Reply to Comment
    13. UmmEinav

      While a doctoral student, I spent about 10 years in the National Library, and often came across these books, so the “great book robbery” comes as no surprise. In fact, as a student I even heard rumors of warehouses that contain additional books. There were also reports of Palestinians who after 1967 made the trip to the library to see their families’ collections, and there are also libraries that were totally preserved (Khalidiyya Library and al-Aqsa Library). What shocks me is that librarians actually went out looking for books in the midst of the 1948 war, whereas I had always thought this book collection was done a bit later, and more haphazardly. I don’t think of this as attempting to destroy a culture, but more as repossessing another people’s culture, just as we Israelis have done with hummus and music, etc. While of course it makes sense to reach some kind of settlement over these books, at the same time, I am thankful that these books were preserved and not destroyed or completely lost due to war.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Every comment here disappoints me. Martin and David — rhetoric requires logic, please acquire some. Vicky — if This Week In Palestine offers credible analysis then the same must be so of Arutz Sheva: you can’t have it both ways. It’s better to link to Amir’s thesis, yes? Danny — your comparison of Israel to the Nazis is odious. I am apt to think you have more in common with David and Martin than you’d like to admit. Zsolt, you are beyond the Pale. I am ashamed of you all. – Reb Arie –

      Reply to Comment
    15. Rabbi Arie,
      .
      ‘This Week in Palestine’ is a magazine that tends to be cultural in focus. I look at it if I want to know where the El Fanoun dance troupe is going to be performing next, or if I want the times of exercise classes in Ramallah. It’s not the Palestinian Arutz Sheva, more like the local bulletin board, and it’s generally full of theatre reviews and the like. Those pieces aren’t intended to be politically analytical; they’re descriptive, both dealing with cultural questions of interest to people living in Palestine. I linked to them simply because I remembered reading them last summer, and I found them interesting at the time. As interviews they are pretty good – I wouldn’t have even known of the existence of the Khalidi Library without them, for example.
      .
      I don’t think Amit’s thesis is available online. PhD research is usually only available in book form. However, I did manage to find quite a lengthy article by him:
      .
      http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/ViewArticle.aspx?id=36

      Reply to Comment
    16. Vicky, thank you. I am most grateful for the link to Amit’s article and will read it this evening. As to the availability of PhD theses, it’s haphazard. Theses Canada — http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/thesescanada/index-e.html — is a superb Canadian resource. I suggest you go there to view Jennifer Peto’s thesis. I’d be curious as to your opinion.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Chas

      Had the Palestinians accepted the 1947 Partition Plan, they could have kept their precious books, olive trees, villages, goat herds, jewels, pots, pans, furniture, hopes, dreams, lifestyle, future. They didn’t. They threw their lot in with the Mufti, an admirer of Hitler. And they lost. The true Nakba is their refusal to take responsibility for this terrible choice.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Chas, the Mufti’s influence in Palestinian society was pretty much dead by the time Nakba occurred. One of the primary reasons for the Nakba is the fact that the Palestinians lacked a political structure that represented them (what Rashid Khalidi terms the ‘para-state apparatus’ that is necessary to forming a state). Amin al-Husseini was actually appointed to leadership by the British Mandatory authorities in 1921 (in spite of receiving the least number of votes!). He was never elected by the people, and so they can hardly be said to have ‘thrown in their lot’ with him.
      .
      Al-Husseini’s British loyalties soured, and during the Second World War he did meet with Hitler and ask for support from him – but so did the politician and activist for independence from India, Subhas Chandra Bhose (who like al-Husseini ended up living in Germany). Prominent politicians from Ireland who supported unification were also implicated in support for Nazism, to the point where in later years supposedly neutral Ireland was accused of having been pro-Nazi. Al-Husseni was definitely anti-Semitic in his views, but as with Bhose and some proponents of Irish unification, there was definitely a strong element of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ in his political manoeuvring against the British authorities. It is only in retrospect that people have overinflated his importance in Palestinian society and given him political credentials that he never actually possessed, purely as a way of legtimising the Nakba (as though the expulsion of approximately 750,000 people could be legitimised by anything).
      .
      The Partition Plan was rejected for many reasons, partly because of the administrative problem of not actually having a functional negotiating body, but also because on the eve of the State of Israel’s creation, the yishuv owned under 7% of the land in Palestine. How to assent to a partition of the land in those circumstances, when the yishuv’s claims greatly exceeded its ownership and practical presence? When Palestine was only just emerging from colonialism’s shadow, had been agitating for total independence, and was wary of European colonialism being imposed on it in yet another form?
      .
      As for the dispossession itself, an analysis of the Haganah’s activities during and immediately before the Nakba makes it abundantly clear that it wasn’t carried out in tears, with the poor innocent militias being left with no choice but to create a refugee crisis. Blaming the victim is abhorrent. Certain ominous statements from David Ben-Gurion suggest that it is wrong factually as well, such as his views on the euphemistically named population transfer: “I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. But compulsory transfer could only be carried out by England…Had its implementation been dependent merely on our proposal I would have proposed; but this would be dangerous to propose when the British government has disassociated itself from compulsory transfer…But this question should not be removed from the agenda because it is central question. There are two issues here : one, sovereignty and two, the removal of a certain number of Arabs, and we must insist on both of them.”
      .
      He wrote that in 1938, one year after the tenth Zionist congress rejected the Peel partition plan because the area assigned to the Jewish state-to-be was smaller than hoped for. Attempting to gain support for partition, Ben Gurion wrote to Sharett, “The only reason that we agreed to discuss the partition plan is mass immigration. Not in the future, and not according to abstract formula, but large immigration now.” In a letter, he clarified his view even further: “I don’t regard a state in part of Palestine as the final aim of Zionism, but as a means toward that aim.”
      .
      This seems to make it pretty clear that ‘transfer’ (otherwise known as Nakba) was a fundamental part of the yishuv leadership’s strategy, and that for Ben-Gurion, the partitioned state was to be a temporary measure. He one day expected to have more. This was the climate in which the Nakba took place. If people were suspicious of the proposed partition, it wasn’t without reason.
      .
      Rabbi Arie,
      .
      I remember the storm that blew up when Peto’s thesis came out. I skimmed through it at the time, and recall thinking it was quite mediocre in quality of analysis. I will give it a more thorough reading now that I have more time.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Chas

      Vicky,
      True, the Haganah didn’t shed tears and yes, Ben Gurion and other Yishuv leaders considered in 1938 the transfer/removal of Arabs. That was the year of Kristallnacht, when the ultimate designs of the Nazis became clear to anyone who cared to look. Placing Jewish survival ahead of Arab civil and property rights may be morally questionable, or even objectionable, but still understandable from a Zionist perspective. But it’s all beside the point. What happened happened. The Zionists tailored their dreams and accepted partition. The Arabs didn’t. That is the nakba.

      At the end of WWI, the Zionists were clearly more organized than the Arabs of Palestine, who lacked, in Khalidi’s words, that “pre-state apparatus.” But by the late 1920s that apparatus had begun to take shape. By the mid-30s the Arabs were organized enough to implement a highly organized revolt which spurred the British to limit Jewish immigration. One can debate the effective authority and influence of the Mufti, but the Arabs of the region did indeed “throw their lot in” with his essential thesis — that the presence of any sort of independent Jewish political entity in Palestine was a cancer on the Arab body politic that had to be exterminated.

      You write that “The Partition Plan was rejected for many reasons, partly because of the administrative problem of not actually having a functional negotiating body, but also because on the eve of the State of Israel’s creation, the yishuv owned under 7% of the land in Palestine…”

      None of these reasons are the essential reason. But sadly, they do provide you and the Palestinians with a thousand excuses for not taking responsibility for their beliefs, desires and decisions vis-a-vis a Jewish state in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Chas, even Theodor Herzl was writing about the need to transfer the local population (whom he referred to as ‘natives’ rather than Arabs, as Palestine had not yet been fixed on as the eventual location of the Jewish state) in order to fulfil Zionist objectives. It wasn’t the product of Kristellnacht. It was part of political Zionist thinking from the movement’s inception in the nineteenth century. (I use the qualifier ‘political’ in order to distinguish this type of Zionist thought from the non-statist Zionism of Magnes and the cultural/spiritual Zionism of Ha’am.)
      .
      “None of these reasons are the essential reason. But sadly, they do provide you and the Palestinians with a thousand excuses for not taking responsibility for their beliefs, desires and decisions vis-a-vis a Jewish state in Palestine.”
      .
      I reached the conclusions I reached based on a lot of close reading. The Arab Revolt was not highly organised at all. The first stage was, consisting principally of strike actions instigated by the Arab Higher Committee. These were quickly quashed by the British through diplomatic means (they called on leaders of surrounding Arab states for support) and the threat of imposing martial law on the population. But the AHC failed to mobilise popular support precisely because it wasn’t representative of the Palestinian population. It was composed entirely of a small urban elite. Its representative capability was so limited that the second part of the Arab Revolt (which was qualitatively so different that I think it can be scarcely classed as the same event) consisted of armed resistance led chiefly by impoverished rural communities. While far more effective at harming British interests, this peasant uprising cannot exactly be called ‘highly organised’, or seen as laying the framework for a government.
      .
      As I already pointed out, Ben Gurion’s own writings reveal that he only saw the partition as an interim measure. History has proven Palestinian fears over both partition and dispossession to be well-placed. The Nakba is not a static event in the past – what happened in Umm al-Faraj over sixty years ago is happening in Umm al-Khair today, with the implementation of a policy to forcibly transfer all Palestinian Bedouin out of West Bank Area C. These aren’t two separate catastrophes; they are woven into the same ugly tapestry, and it’s no more about ‘survival’ today than it was in 1948.
      .
      People were massacred during the Nakba, and whole families were split up never to see each other again. I know one elderly lady who drank her own urine on the road out of Lydda just to give herself strength to keep walking. It is not only historically wrong to suggest that doing this to people was somehow necessary for Jewish survival (or, worse yet, that they did it to themselves) but morally repugnant. Interestingly, this is exactly the same attitude taken by prominent members of the yishuv’s leadership (including Ben-Gurion and Weizmann) towards survivors of the Shoah – the idea that they had brought on their own suffering by not acting as they ought to have done. Scorn for vulnerability appears to be woven into the fabric of political Zionism.
      .
      But in one sense you are right, and the historical picture is irrelevant. Not because ‘what happened happened’ (I don’t take that sort of fatalistic attitude to gross historical injustices, as though they are random natural disasters rather than acts of human agency that need to be acknowledged and redressed) but because a conscience alone is enough to illustrate that this is wrong. I go into the refugee camps, I see how people in there are living, and I know that nothing can possibly excuse what has been done to them. The excuse-making lies with the people who clutch at al-Husseini (who by the way was deeply unpopular in Palestinian society at the time of the Nakba) in order to justify present-day Palestinian suffering. Both historically and morally, it can’t be done.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Hi everyone!

      Thank you for reading the article and for the lively discussion that is happening here.

      As you have read in the article, The Great Book Robbery website includes a Forum section where TGBR enthusiasts and critics alike are open to share their opinions on the project. We welcome and encourage dissent since it ensures an even more robust discussion.

      I ask and encourage anyone interested in writing for the Forum to contact me at Karinaig89@gmail.com Below is a link to the Forum.

      http://thegreatbookrobbery.org/forum

      Karina

      Reply to Comment
    22. Rabbi Arie Chark

      Thanks, Vicky. Your correspondence with Chas is enlightening. Are you Canadian?

      Reply to Comment
    23. Chas

      You’re a true believer, Vicky, an ideologue if I ever saw one. You can boldly state that you “go into the refugee camps…see how people in there are living, and I know that nothing can possibly excuse what has been done to them.” Well, you’re right. Nothing can excuse the fact in the entire modern history of war refugees, only the Palestinians have been denied the opportunity to build new lives in new homes. Only the Palestinians have been forced to remain refugees, and to give birth to a second and third generation of refugees who face the same bleak fate as their parents and grandparents. Only the Palestinians have an UNWRA, a UN organization specifically designed to maintain their refugee status. It is utter insanity, but you cannot see it. You blame Israel for their ongoing plight? You refuse to point a finger at the Arab nations who have enslaved them there for generations? Their guilt is self-evident, as is their contempt for their unfortunate Palestinian brothers and sisters. 1948? In the wake of the War of Independence, over 650,000 Jewish refugees were forced to flee Arab lands where they had lived for centuries. Many fled with little more than the shirts on their backs and the nascent Jewish state absorbed them. Tell me, Vicky, in what library will I find the mountains of books and sacred texts they had to leave behind?

      Reply to Comment
    24. You say that I ‘refuse to point a finger at the Arab nations’, but how can you know that? The failure of surrounding Arab countries to meet their obligations towards Palestinian refugees is well-documented, and a subject of some bitterness within the Palestinian community. In the case of Lebanon especially, it was more than a simple failure to support the refugees: it was active and systemic discrimination against them, including state-sanctioned murder. I doubt you’d find anyone who works in this field disputing that. But there are certain responsibilities that these countries technically cannot fulfil and rights that they cannot grant – such as return. They exacerbated the refugee crisis, but they did not cause it. There is a difference. As this post is about the Nakba, the focus is on Israel’s responsibilities in regard to restitution. Refugee welfare is a separate topic.
      .
      In any case, you and I seem to have different reasons for condemning surrounding states for their treatment of Palestinian refugees. I condemn them for failing to safeguard the welfare and protect the rights of a very vulnerable subgroup of the population. If your comment on ‘forcing them to remain refugees’ is anything to go by, you blame them for not sponging up the memory of what happened by absorbing them into their own population without a ripple.
      .
      As for UNRWA, it was founded in 1949, in hasty and direct response to the Palestinian refugee crisis, as a way to effectively co-ordinate the provision of housing, healthcare, and other aid. At that time there was no UN agency that dealt with refugee welfare, so it wasn’t a question of the Palestinians being given some special perk that nobody else had. Had the UN High Commission for Refugees existed then, they would have fallen naturally under its umbrella, but it didn’t exist. Secondly, UNRWA actually disadvantages Palestinian refugees in some ways, because they are excluded by default from the benefits enshrined in the UN 1951 convention on refugee welfare. UNRWA provides aid, but it can’t give them much in the way of political advocacy. It would be far better for them to be covered by UNHCR.
      .
      In bringing up the situation of Arab Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from their home countries, you’re making the same insinuation as some of the commenters above tried to use – the idea that all Arabs are somehow the same, and that Palestinians have no right to complain about dispossession because Jewish communities suffered dispossession in Egypt. Secondly, the Arab Jewish influx was much more complex than you’re making out. To begin with, around 250,000 left or were driven from home in the aftermath of Israel’s creation; the remainder came in much smaller numbers over the course of the next thirty years, and not in response to a particular crisis. Seeking to boost the Jewish population of the country, the nascent state of Israel offered monetary incentives to certain Arab governments (most notably in Iraq) and urged them to promote Jewish emigration. There were cases of straightforward and vicious expulsion, and talking about the Nakba does not negate what these people endured. However, using their experience as a counterpoint to the Nakba is both illogical and unjust, as it implies Palestinian responsibility.
      .
      Your comment on the presence of looted books in the National Library (“In what library will I find the mountains of books and sacred texts that they had to leave behind?”) is fallacious for another reason. Individuals featured in this documentary witnessed their libraries being pillaged in front of their own eyes. The ultimate destination of the books – whether the National Library, or paper waste – is irrelevant. The problem is the actual looting. The fact that a large percentage of the books were neatly marked ‘AP’ and stored in the National Library (having had traces of former ownership removed) is not some noble generous act that redeems the fact.
      .
      “You’re a true believer, Vicky, an ideologue if I ever saw one. You can boldly state that you ‘go into the refugee camps…'””
      .
      No, I just have a specific and rather mundane job to perform when I go into those camps. There is nothing bold about my statement; I am not Scott traversing the Antarctic. As for being an ideologue, I’ve noticed that your comments to me don’t contain any engagement with primary source material. Your description of UNWA’s existence as ‘insanity’ suggested to me that you weren’t aware of the organisation’s history and why it has responsibility for Palestinian refugees. You have made lots of assertions (e.g. popular Palestinian support for Amin al-Husseini) without providing any evidence to back these up apart from other assertions. Finally, you resort to personal accusations against me, centring on my views about Arab countries’ responsibilities towards refugees (views that you couldn’t possibly have known without asking, unless you’d stumbled on my other comments on this topic). Why not just ask? Unsupported assertions and accusatory language look a lot like ideologism, so it seems a bit ironic that you would ascribe ideological thinking to me.
      .
      Rabbi Arie,
      .
      I’m British, looking forward to the day when I can get my dual Palestinian citizenship. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    25. Rabbi Arie Chark

      Chas, I agree that we left books behind. Nu? Someone behaved badly to us, so this gives us the right to behave badly? I think not! You are correct to assert that the refugee camps are an international disgrace. You are incorrect that this is relevant to how Jews should behave towards the Palestinim. Chiloni or dati (secular or religious) should have little or nothing to do with musar (ethical behaviour). That it does speaks volume about how disconnected modern Israelis of all types are from traditions that are far less religious than they are spiritual, humane, and human.

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    26. ARTH

      Yes, there was an attempt to erase the cultural memory and existence of the Palestinians. Especially the well-to-do and educated Palestinians who do demonstrate that there was some sort of advanced culture existing in Palestine without the introduction of the Zionist venture.

      But I find the rhetoric in this article problematic. There was a war, and in that war many people became refugees as a matter-of-fact. Some of these people had books which remained in the country. The books were found and there was no way to return them to their original owners even if it was known just who they were. So they found their way to the National Library in Jerusalem. There is nothing malicious in this and there is no conspiracy here. Just troves of books. At least they found a home and were preserved and are available to be read.

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    27. ARTH

      Yes, there was an attempt to erase the cultural memory and existence of the Palestinians. Especially the well-to-do and educated Palestinians who do demonstrate that there was some sort of advanced culture existing in Palestine without the introduction of the Zionist venture.

      But I find the rhetoric in this article problematic. There was a war, and in that war many people became refugees as a matter-of-fact. Some of these people had books which remained in the country. The books were found and there was no way to return them to their original owners even if it was known just who they were. So they found their way to the National Library in Jerusalem. There is nothing malicious in this and there is no conspiracy here. Just troves of books and a plethora of potential knowledge. At least these books found new homes and were preserved and, moreover, are available for research and to be read.

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    28. sh

      It’s the half-empty and half-full glasses again. In places that wanted to totally erase cultural memory they didn’t put books in national libraries, they burned them.

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    29. Samy

      Keep up the excellent work and don’t bother answering hypocrites disguised in the meticulousness costume. Pro Jewish state on someone else’s land are hypocritical creatures whatever they say or do. They are of no value morally or academically…they should not be dignified with answers.

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