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.