The Great Book Robbery

chronicles of a cultural destruction


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The Destruction of Palestinian Library and Cultural Resources in 2002 by Tom Twiss

  The Great Book Robbery may have been the first case in which the government of Israel conducted an assault upon libraries, but it was not the last. Here, I want to recall a more recent case of the destruction of Palestinian libraries.

I Come From There and Remember…Only to Make a Single Word Called Homeland by Lubna Bandak

Israel Can Never Steal Our Heritage by Rana Baker

  We Palestinians have nothing to cherish more than our roots and ancestral identity. To us, olive trees and the shade in which our grandparents rested or lovers used to secretly meet weave together sweet pre-dispossession memories.

The Displacement of an Imagined People: Tourism, Biblical Romanticism, and Orientalism in Pre-Mandate Palestine 1840-1922

  This is an introduction to Kali Harper’s undergraduate Honors thesis.    Introduction


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Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s “Abandoned Property” of 1948 by Hannah Mermelstein

This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Quarterly in Autumn 2011. Cultural genocide extends beyond attacks upon the physical and/or biological elements of a group and seeks to eliminate its wider institutions… Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when artistic, literary, and cultural activities are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artifacts, and art galleries are destroyed or confiscated. – David Neressian.1

Book plunder, the loss of culture and the way forward

Since occupation started erasing Palestinian culture, by the grand book theft, by the appropriation of historic sites, the change of place names into Hebrew names, and the daily control of books that can access the Palestinian areas, many have struggled to preserve our culture. The Arab Women’s Union in Bethlehem re-printed old Palestinian books, researchers such as Khalil Shokeh worked on publishing books documenting and archiving old Palestinian photography, people such as the Nashashibi’s preserved what was left of their old libraries.

The significance of the arts

Listening. Its a radically loving act that involves not only hearing an individual, but empathizing with their situation and in turn internalizing their feelings and expressions as your own.

Old and Knew Knowledge by Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh

Colonial history is a history of attack on native people and everything associated with them.   It is an attempt not only to erase the people but to erase their memory.  No other colonial system developed as many tools  to achieve this erasure than Zionism.  Zionsits used the classic brute force forms of ethnic cleansing where 530 villages and towns were depopulated and destroyed.


In time we intend to translate their entire online catalogue – close to 6000 – of these books. We are looking for volunteers who can translate from Arabic to English in order to complete this work. Please contact us if you are interested.

Record number Author Title Classification Publisher Year of publication
AP 10
A-Dur Al-Nadid: Basics of Quran Intonation Quran Studies Jaffa: Al-Samhura
AP 65
Collections of Classical Letters Arabic Prose Cairo: Mustafa Al-Babi-Alhalabi 1913
AP 68
1001 Nights Classic Literature Egypt: Muhammad Ali Sabih Library
AP 93
Kalila wa Dumna Classic Literature Egypt: Khazandar Publishing 1934
AP 130
Book of Literary Tips: For Students of Arabic Literature Studies Egypt: Al-Saada Publishing 1907
AP 428
Book of Intonation for Worship Arabic literature Beirut 1857
AP 402
Abdallah, Tawfiq Al-Qissas Al-Hadithat (The Modern Stories)  French fiction Egypt: The Modern Printing Press 1924
AP 129
Abdel-Raziq, Haroon  The Constructive Didactic Principles Education Alexandria: The Publishing House of Egypt
AP 35
Abdul-Jawad, Muhammad AL-Tathkira Linguistics Egypt: Al-Maaref Publishing House 1935
AP 507
Ahmed Shawky Layla’s Fool Egypt: Egypt Press 1931
AP 501
Ahmed Timoor Translations of the Elites from the 13th and Early 14th Century Egypt: Abd Alhamid Ahmed Hanafy 1940
AP 28
Al-Abyari, Abdul Hadi Naja The Piercing Star Historiography Egypt 1862
AP 5
Al-Adawi, Sayed Qutub Hidayat Al-Mureed: The Theory of Quran Intonation Quran Studies Egypt, Tanata: The Public Library 1927
AP 129
Al-Alusi, Mahmmud Shukri  Translations of Baghdad Thinkers in the 12th and 13th Centuries Literature Baghdad: The Arab Library 1930
AP 91
Al-Ansari, Zakariya Abu Yihya Al-Lulu Al-Nathim Dictionaries Egypt: The Encyclopedia PrinHouse 1901
AP 92
Al-Ansari, Zakariya Abu Yihya Introduction to Common Phrases in Islamic Thought Dictionaries Egypt: The Encyclopedia PrinHouse 1901
AP 71
Al-Aqad, Abbas Mahmoud The Story of Qambiz and The Scale Plays Beirut: Al-Majal Al-Jadida Publishing House
AP 4
Al-Asma’ai, Muhammad Abdul Jawad Arab Epochs: Arabs and Arabic in the Jahilya Epoch History and Linguistics Egypt: Al-Jamliya Publishing House 1912
AP 101
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on Al-Azhariya Interpretation Linguistics Egypt: The Ottoman Publishing House 1901
AP 102
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on Al-Azhariya Interpretation Linguistics Egypt: Al-Khiriya Publishing 1891
AP 103
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on Al-Azhariya Interpretation Linguistics
AP 144
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on AL-Zahiriya’s Interpretation Linguistics Egypt: Al-Castaliya Publishing 1864
AP 148
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes Linguistics Egypt: Al-Hajar Publishing 1862
AP 150
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on AL-Zahiriya’s Interpretation Linguistics Cairo: AL-Kahiriya Publishing 1885
AP 152
Al-Azhari, Khaled bin Abdullah Hassan Al-Attar’s Notes on AL-Zahiriya’s Interpretation Linguistics Egypt: Al-Maumaniya Publishing 1889

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The drive to “collect” the books came from the management and librarians of Israel’s National Library – a leading cultural institution of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel – where all the valuable books ended up. Another forty thousand (40,000) Palestinian books were “collected” in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and other places.

Today, about six thousand of these books can be found on the shelves of the National Library, organised like a fossilized army of a dead Chinese emperor, accessible but lifeless, indexed with the label AP – Abandoned Property.

This entirely unknown historical event came into light by chance; an Israeli PhD student – while researching in various state archives – stumbled upon documents from 1948-9 that mentioned “collecting books in Arabic from occupied territories.”

The plunder affair is a remarkable illustration of how one culture emerges from the dust of another after it has laid it to waste; the moment Palestinian culture is destroyed is also the moment a new Israeli consciousness is born, based not only on the erasure of the Arabs’ presence in Palestine but also on the destruction of their culture.

Dramatic new light illuminates the disaster inflicted upon the Palestinian people and their culture in 1948. A particularly chilling document from March 1949 lists tens of Jerusalemites whose libraries were “collected” – it reads like a Who’s Who of the Palestinian cultural elite of the time.

For decades Zionist and Israeli propaganda described the Palestinians as “people without culture.” Thus, the victorious Israeli state took upon itself to civilise the Palestinians who remained within its borders at the end of the 1948 war. They were forbidden to study their own culture or to remember their immediate past; their memory was seen as a dangerous weapon that had to be suppressed and controlled.