The great Book Robbery employs a multifaceted approach to tell a multi-layered story: dramatic location filming, eyewitness accounts, archival footage, pictorial material, C.G.I.—computer generated images, documents and culture critiques.

The film interweaves various story lines in a structure that is dramatically compelling and emotionally unsettling. For example, we reveal, gradually, the mechanism behind this state sponsored looting – how it was done practically. Interwoven into this story line are the eyewitness accounts and culture critiques that place the plunder affair in a larger historical-cultural context. Another story line is the justifications, produced internally by the National Library’s management, for the “collection” of the books – “we carried out a cultural salvage operation”.

Among the participants: Palestinian author and editor Mohammed Batrawi; Palestinian-Israeli author and scriptwriter Ala Hlehel; Aziz Shehadeh, a Palestinian-Israeli lawyer from Nazareth, and former Israeli librarian Uri Palit, both indexed the “collected” books in the early 1960s. We also interviewed Nasser Eddin Nashashibi, who witnessed the looting of his uncle’s (Is’aaf Nashashibi) priceless library. The Nashashibis trace their presence in Palestine to the 13th century. In 1948 Nasser was in his early 20s. His own books were looted too, among them Makramiyat which he received from its Egyptian author in 1945 with a personal inscription. We found the book in the National Library; the handwritten inscription fitted to the last comma Nashashibi’s recollection of it.

Israel has constructed a moralistic and heroic narrative of the 1948 war. One of the film’s aims is to deconstruct this imperial history. In this context we interviewed noted Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. Other participants are Palestinian author Ghada Karmi; Israeli curator Rona Sela; and Palestinian-Israeli social-historian Mahmoud Yazbak.

Ultimately, the film’s purpose is to prevent this story from fading into oblivion by passing it on to future generations.


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