The Great Book Robbery Project – Open Access To Win Back the Palestinian Books

robberyprojectBut I do know that the stranger can never go back to what he was. Even if he returns. It is over. A person gets ‘displacement’ as he gets asthma, and there is no cure for either.
(Mourid Barghouti, “I Saw Ramallah”)

While rereading the other day a newsletter from Peter Suber, a certain project caught my eye and got it stuck where it has seen no room for open access before. The eye took me to the Arabian Nights, to Palestine and to the most peaceful solution to the robbery of 60,ooo books. Could a single virtual library get a clean slate for the Palestinian people who have been described by Zionist and Israeli propaganda as “people without culture” for decades?

Nineteen Forty Eight

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.” This is not to be forgotten. Filmmakers Benny Brunner and Alexandra Jansse together with Arjan El Fassed, a lobbyist and a member of the Dutch-Palestinian Parliament established the 2911 Foundation in February, 2010 in Amsterdam. The group is now leading a serious cultural heritage project located on their website which is to grow into the platform with a function of collecting stories of those who witnessed the robbery. In order to make the “lawlessness and tragedy” more obvious, the material will be used for animated footage. The animations will form a documentary which will be broadcast and screened internationally. The end goal of the Great Book Robbery project is to build a virtual library, bring the books back to their legal heirs and to podcast the stolen literature and poetry.

The Detective Animation

animationsDirector Benny Brunner grows an old interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish and modern Israeli history and inspiring individuals. An Israeli student Gish Amit stumbled upon this affair by chance when he noticed how Israeli National Library emerged from the dust of the Palestinian culture. “Today, six thousand of the looted 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,” they state at the website.  Gish Amit will have a detective role in the documentary. The interviews with other owners of the looted books will be included in the film and presented in dramatic animations as eyewitness accounts. “Israel has constructed a moralistic-heroic narrative of the 1948 war. One of the film’s aims will be to deconstruct this imperial history,” the director states. “We intend to communicate the scope and depth of the Palestinian tragedy through the destruction of Palestinian culture in 1948.”

The partial list of collected books can be found on the project site. Visitors are invited to contribute to the project by either translating or donating money for the screening. Some exhibitions are to be organized in the future to memorialize this act of the cultural renewal. “Did I paint for strangers an ideal picture of Palestine because I had lost it,” Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti asks himself in his prose poem “I saw Ramallah”. What would Palestine look like if it wasn’t lost?

(Images obtained from the Great Book Robbery Project’s official website)

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