Nora Lester Murad recently went to see Benny Brunner’s film, The Great Book Robbery:
By Nora Lester Murad
The camera follows two Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from the counter at Israel’s National Library to a table. They carry a small stack books from a collection labeled “AP” for “Absentee Property.” They sit in front of them awestruck. They touch covers showing respect for the books, their rightful owners, and the Nakba that caused Palestinians to lose their country and heritage.
One of the Palestinians opens a book and finds “Khalil Sakakini” written by hand in the inside cover. He gasps. The audience watching the film, crammed into the basement floor of Educational Bookshop on Salah Al-Din Street in Jerusalem, is captivated. I crane my neck to see past the tall woman in front of me. The importance of this book, a one-time possession of one of the Arab world’s most important educators and nationalists, jumps off the screen. I feel an unspoken sadness in the room as we grasp the reality: This priceless piece of Palestinian heritage, and so many others, is held by Israel’s National Library.
This scene is one of many gripping scenes in the film, “The Great Book Robbery” shown for the first time in Palestine on January 12, 2013 to an audience of almost 150 people. The documentary by Israeli-Dutch director Benny Brunner unfolds the story of at least 70,000 books looted from Palestinian homes and institutions in 1948. Benny Brunner, a longtime maker of films says of himself: “His work is subversive in nature and has proven to be a thorn in the collective Israeli establishment’s backside.”
It is widely known that when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from Palestine before and after the establishment of Israel, most Palestinian land and belongings were lost. This film, however, highlights the plight of books. It’s a story that isn’t well-known, and to lovers of books, it is particularly tragic.