The Great Book Robbery

Hello! After several months of neglect, farfromthesilverscreen is finally back, alive and kicking! Why the hiatus in my writing, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve been busy working in my new role as Production Assistant for London production company Spirit Level Film and my only real excuse is that my brain has been totally dominated by all things related to ‘The Price of Kings’, Spirit Level’s latest and most ambitious undertaking, a projected twelve part documentary series looking at world leaders and the personal price they pay for their career choice.

Anyway, enough of that, I’m here to talk about another equally fascinating documentary film I recently discovered via Aljazeera’s website:

The Great Book Robbery’, directed by Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner, tells about a little known but shocking element of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when Israeli forces went through villages and towns (which previously formed part of The British Mandate of Palestine and, as of 15 May 1948, were now officially part of the newly created state of Israel) and forced out the Arab residents from their homes. Israeli librarians would then shortly follow troops and ‘appropriate’ any books or manuscripts of cultural significance or monetary value.

The film interviews those who were involved in this ‘looting’ or ‘appropriation’ of Palestinian families’ literary assets, attempting to try and discovered whether this Israeli policy was part of a genuine effort to protect these books from destruction, or whether it was a programme of state-sponsored theft of Palestinian cultural heritage.

Images of the ‘appropriated’ books labelled ‘AP’ for ‘Abandoned Property’

One of those interviewed is Ilan Pappe, the Israeli historian (now working at Exeter University), who argues that the appropriation of the books, the cultural and religious texts from Palestinians is no different from the appropriation of Palestinian land and property. He argues that this appropriation of Palestinian books “was done in order to defeat the Palestinian narrative… it tried to erase the Palestinian out of history.” He goes on to state that, “I think it was a crime”.

‘The Great Book Robbery’ certainly attempts to present both sides of the story, however, the anger of the Palestinian voices rings out by far the strongest. The anger seems justified when we find out that, despite the Israeli National Library’s intention of simply ‘protecting’ this ‘absentee property’ (as they describe the books), they have no plans to attempt to return the books to the descendents of their owners, to allow descendents to reclaim the books, or even to offer the books to Palestinian Universities in an offer of good faith and reconciliation.

I highly recommend this film for those interested in learning more about the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the issues that surround it. ‘The Great Book Robbery’ offers a really fascinating insight into a quite shocking occurrence of which I had no prior knowledge.

You can watch ‘The Great Book Robbery’ via Aljazeera’s website, or via the player below:

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