Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When Are Books Dangerous? The Case of the Palestinian Book Plunder

Just the other day, as we oscillate between Israeli and Palestinian versions of history, we landed upon the nakba, the catastrophe of 1948, and I discussed the notion that Palestinians themselves present an ongoing existential threat to Israel, insofar as their very presence interrogates many of the founding myths of the state.  The story, retold in Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem, of how Israeli commandos first went for the PLO archive during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, became a way of showing how Palestinian culture itself--the maps, the keys, the land deeds, the history books--were perceived as dangerous, and valuable. 

Today I read of a new documentary of the 1948 war by Benny Brunner, which details a similar cultural plunder.

Here's a bit of the article (read more at the link at the end) of the quote: 

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. This historical incident is particularly revealing as it sheds light on a Palestinian cultural movement consisting of literary caf├ęs, cinemas, and theater which, in the haze of a bitter war, was lost but never mourned. It’s time, states Brunner, for this cultural movement to be revived—the books returned—and for recognition of the diversity of Palestinian culture beyond rural embroidery and traditional Arab dance.

—Arwa Aburawa for Guernica

Guernica: Your latest documentary in the making, The Great Book Robbery, is about the looting of Palestinian books during the Nakba. How did you come across this incident which, until now, was a hidden chapter in the war of 1948?

Benny Brunner: Two-and-a-half years ago I was in the region, shooting another film, and I came across an essay by an Israeli PhD student called Gish Amit, and I was shocked. I mean I was literally stunned because at the time I thought I knew all that there was to know about ’48 and the Nakba and I didn’t believe that anything could surprise me. And the story is really significant. It’s more than the fact that seventy thousand books were looted. I realized that the Nakba wasn’t just the seven hundred and fifty thousand people who became refugees or the villages demolished. It was also the destruction of a culture. It was obvious to me I had to turn this into a film.

Read more of "Palestine's Great Book Robbery" here.

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