Israelis, Palestinians dispute books appropriated in 1948

When Palestinians fled their homes in 1948, they left behind some 30,000 books. Now they want them back.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP
A Palestinian reads from the Quran.

Israelis and Palestinians find themselves at odds once again. The argument this time is not over bodies, but books. The AFP is reporting that the families of Palestinians who fled Jerusalem have been searching for their ancestor's books – to no avail, until recently. Around 30,000 books were appropriated by Israeli soldiers and librarians during the first war establishing the nation-state of Israel in 1948.

"For Israel, the effort was a way to preserve books which would eventually be returned to their owners. But for the Palestinians, it was theft," reports the AFP. The Israelis began to catalog all of the books, a process that took 10 to 15 years.

Uri Palit, an Israeli involved with the cataloging process told the AFP, "We wrote the name of the owner in pencil on the books ... because we wanted to return it someday when there is peace."

However, the library requires any Palestinian descendants requesting the books back to provide proof of ownership. For many Palestinians, such proof was destroyed as they fled their Jerusalem homes nearly 60 years ago.

Gish Amit, an Israeli who came across the collection while looking for a PhD topic in the National Library, told the AFP, "The worst thing is the library's refusal to acknowledge the injustice that was done to the Palestinians.... When I talked to the librarians there, they kept telling me that this was an act of rescue, even today. This I cannot accept."

Palit defends the Israeli decision to catalog and preserve the books, telling the AFP, "[W]e couldn't act otherwise." 

Many Palestinians, however, see it is an act of theft – an allegation many Israelis deny. As Palestinian and Israeli their wills collide in yet another arena, the books remain in the basement of the Israeli National Library.

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