Looted Palestinian books 'brought back to life'

Ma'an News 23 October 2010

AMSTERDAM (Ma'an) -- A unique initiative has been launched to tell the story of, and open access to, tens of thousands Palestinian books that were looted by Israel during the 1948 war.

Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner and Dutch-Palestinian member of parliament Arjan El Fassed now intend to bring these looted books back to life through a documentary film and a crowd-sourcing website, a statement issued Tuesday read.

"During the 1948 war, 60,000 books owned by Palestinians were systematically looted by the newly-born state of Israel. This plunder affair was carried out by a cooperation between the Israeli army and librarians of the National Library where most of the valuable books ended up," the statement read.

This unknown historical event came recently to light by chance by Israeli PhD student Gish Amit. Priceless old manuscripts, literary and poetry books, translations, and manuscripts of unpublished books were among the looted books in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and other cities and towns. Close to 6,000 of the "collected" books are currently available at the Israel's National Library cataloged with the label AP - "Abandoned Property."

Through social media, Facebook and Twitter, Brunner and El-Fassed located a number of eyewitnesses, uncovering previously unknown aspects of the story. During their research the makers found and interviewed Nasser Ad-Din Nashashibi, who witnessed the looting of his uncle's priceless library, the statement read. His own books were looted too, among them, a book he received from its Egyptian author with a personal inscription. His book was found in the National Library. The hand written inscription "fitted to the last comma" of Nashashibi's recollection of it.

With a website Brunner and El-Fassed aim to recreate the plundered private Palestinian libraries and feature stories about their owners. They use social media to crowd fund the search for eyewitnesses to the books' looting, their legal heirs, experts, curators, and culture critiques that will help resurrect a lost cultural era, as well as to raise the necessary funds to make the documentary film that will ensure that this story will be told and be passed on to future generations, the statement added.

"The book plunder affair is a remarkable illustration of how one culture emerges from the dust of another after it has laid it to waste," says filmmaker Brunner.

"We want to build a virtual interactive library for the 60.000 stolen books, find the books' heirs and mobilize action to open access to these books," says El-Fassed. "They have their own individual histories which make them an indispensable part of the fabric of cultural heritage."
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