"Ex-Libris: Chronicles of Theft, Preservation, and Appropriating at the Jewish National Library - The Case of the Palestinian and Yemenite Looted Books" - CANCELED

  • 208 Knox Hall, Columbia University


Gish Amit, Mandel Leadership Institute (Jerusalem).

Gish Amit has been involved in non-formal education for some twenty years. He taught cinema and literature at the Arab Democratic School in Jaffa, and lectured in philosophy and critical theory at Tel-Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Amit is a co-author (with Gadi Avidan and Chen Lampert) of The Unheard Voice: A Different View on Children at Schools (in Hebrew, HaKibbutz HaMeuchad, 2005), and author of Ex-Libris: the Jewish National and University Library 1945-1955 (in Hebrew, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute). Amit holds a BA and an MA from Tel-Aviv University in philosophy and literature, and a doctorate from the Hebrew literature department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He was recently a post-doctoral fellow at "The Middle East in Europe" program in Berlin.

During the 1948 war, the staff of the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University collected some 30,000 books, manuscripts and newspapers that were left behind by the Palestinian residents of western Jerusalem. About 6,000 of those book were "loaned" to the National Library's Eastern Studies Department. Furthermore, the Custodian of Absentee Property gathered some 40,000-50,000 books from the cities of Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth and other places.

Many Jews from Yemen who arrived in the fledgling state of Israel in the late 1940s and early 1950s brought with them hand-written books, scrolls, and other precious possessions. On arrival they were asked to deposit these objects with state officials who promised that their belongings would be returned. Most of these artifacts were subsequently appropriated by the state via the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its library. Owners were later told that the artifacts had unaccountably disappeared or been destroyed by fire; still later some of these objects were put up for sale by book dealers; some continue to appear in unlikely places.

The untold story of the fate of both Palestinian and Yemenite 'abandoned' books will be discussed in this lecture. Both cases demonstrate how occupation and colonization is not limited to the taking over of physical space, but also to the occupation and control of cultural spaces.


Co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute, the Department of Art History and Archaeology, and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University.