Librarians group calls for boycott to stop ‘erasure of Palestinian culture and history’

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We  are an independent group of librarians and archivists who traveled to  Palestine from June 23 – July 4, 2013. We come from the US, Canada,  Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and Palestine. We bore witness to the  destruction and appropriation of information, and the myriad ways access  is denied. We were inspired by the many organizations and individuals  we visited who resist settler-colonialism in their daily lives. We  connected with colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects  and institutions, in the hopes of gaining mutual benefit through  information exchange and skill-sharing. We learned about the common and  unique challenges we face—both in different parts of Palestine and in  our home contexts. In all our travels and work, we respected the  Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions  (BDS) against Israel and did not partner with any organization that  violates this call. As librarians and archivists, as people who believe  in access to information, we affirm that institutional academic and  cultural boycotts are appropriate responses to curtailed freedoms and  are effective tools for change.

Our group was small, our scope limited. We traveled only to  Palestine, and only to parts of Palestine. We were not able to visit  Palestinian communities in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere,  and our trip was only the first step in creating a network of  information workers. We were privileged to visit cities, villages, and  refugee camps, and to meet with grassroots activists and institutional  representatives. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and 1948 Palestine  (Israel), we engaged with librarians and archivists about their projects  and their struggles.

As we travelled we saw barriers to movement everywhere:  walls, checkpoints, turnstiles, metal detectors, segregated roads,  surveillance watchtowers, military patrols, security cameras, and  settler militias. We saw communities devastated by criminalization and  incarceration. We visited the rubble of villages that were destroyed in  1948, and we witnessed the ongoing Judaization of Palestinian  communities through new housing developments, unequal provision of  municipal services, and the Hebraization of place names. We saw new  Israeli settlements hovering on hilltops above Palestinian villages,  evidence of the forcible land grabs and displacement that Palestinians  have been facing for decades. We met families that have struggled and  suffered through egregious violence and yet work every day to secure  education, opportunities, safety and a more just world for their  children.

The erasure of Palestinian culture and history is a tactic  of war and occupation, a means to further limit the self-determination  of the Palestinian people. Yet the richness, beauty, and complexity of  Palestinian existence was everywhere evident, in the historical and  contemporary cultural material produced by writers, poets, journalists,  artists, archivists and librarians, and in the histories passed down  through stories and from person to person. We bore witness to a culture  of resistance, which in all its myriad forms resoundingly refutes the  notion that Palestine does not exist.

Our experiences in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and 1948  Palestine (Israel) were complex, challenging, beautiful and deeply  meaningful. We met creative, committed, and courageous activists,  visionaries, cultural workers, artists, librarians and archivists.  Everywhere we went we witnessed the daily lived realities of occupation  and colonialism, as well as ongoing resistance and the persistent quest  for justice:

  • At Aida Refugee Camp located in Bethlehem, we saw how the  Apartheid Wall prevented the community from accessing nearby olive  groves which had been used for relaxation, studying, animal grazing and  agriculture. We also heard about the Lajee Center’s project to map the  people’s histories of the camp.

  • In Nabi Saleh weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the  confiscation of the community’s land and water are met with extreme  violence from the Israeli military. The villagers are using video to  document the violence they experience, as well as collecting the empty  tear gas canisters and shell casings which are used against them. This  documentation is used by the community to honor their resistance, to  communicate their struggle with the wider world, and to dispute false  accusations in the courts.

  • School librarians described the difficulty in obtaining  Arabic language children’s literature, especially in 1948 Palestine  (Israel). Many of the available books are low-quality translations from  Hebrew, and Palestinian children have little access to their own  literary heritage.

  • We visited the destroyed town of Saffourieh and heard from  former resident Abu Arab about his experiences fleeing the town as a  child during the Nakba. Abu Arab has a museum of Palestinian material  culture, which he developed out of his work as an antiques collector.  The museum challenges the process of ethnic cleansing and the erasure of  cultural memory. Abu Arab is the brother of poet Taha Muhammed Ali.

  • Throughout Palestine we encountered cultural production by  youth to preserve traditions, by the Yaffa Youth Movement in Jaffa, the  Yafa Cultural Center in Balata Refugee Camp, and the Lajee Center in  Aida Refugee Camp.

  • We witnessed the documentation of prisoners’ lives, a  central experience in the Palestinian struggle against occupation. At  the Nablus Public Library we saw the marginalia and creative book  repairs in a former prison library collection, and at the Abu Jihad  Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs we learned about a project to  collect and digitize prisoners’ notebooks from across the West Bank.

  • We learned from the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human  Rights Association that the Israeli military is currently detaining  4,900 Palestinians, including 236 children and 8 members of Palestinian  legislature.

  • In East Jerusalem we visited the Nashashibi Center for  Culture and Literature, a rebuilt family library from which all the  books were stolen during the Nakba in 1948. We also visited the Orient  House, which was closed by the Israeli government in 2001 and had  significant portions of its archival collections confiscated.

  • Librarians at Birzeit University told us of their success  in petitioning the Library of Congress to adopt a unique call number for  the First Intifada: DS128.4.

  • During a meeting with the organization alQaws for Sexual  & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, we learned about the  process of organizing across the West Bank / 1948 Palestine border, the  articulation of Palestinian-specific understandings of sexual identity,  and the Singing Sexuality project, which discusses sexuality through  music.

  • In Lyd, not far from Tel Aviv, we saw where the library of the local school was removed and replaced with a police station.

  • We visited the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan,  where residents of the neighborhood create grassroots media about the  settler violence they experience on a daily basis.

  • At the El Bireh Municipal Library we learned about the  Tamer Institute, which produces and publishes Arabic language children’s  books that are distributed to libraries and community centers  throughout Palestine.

Recognizing the barriers to movement and access that often keep the  aforementioned organizations and projects from connecting with each  other, and appreciating the importance of accountability to the  communities that hosted us in Palestine, our delegation organized a  public forum in Ramallah on our last evening together. We shared our  initial ideas and asked for feedback about our observations.

While the delegation has ended, our work will continue: we  will seek out and convene events in our home communities where we can  share our knowledge about the effects of occupation and colonialism on  libraries, archives, and Palestinian society; we will publish reports,  articles, and zines that document the challenges faced—and the amazing  work being done—by Palestinian information workers; we will develop an  international network of information workers to facilitate  skill-sharing, solidarity work, and community among librarians and  archivists in Palestine and abroad; we will lobby national and  international library and archival organizations to take tangible steps  against the occupation and in support of Palestinian perspectives in  information work; we will join Palestinians, Israelis, and international  activists in campaigns for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS)  against Israeli apartheid and colonialism. We will continue to learn and  adapt our strategies to changing realities and will engage in critical  examinations of our own positions of privilege. Through these activities  we will work to support access to information in and about Palestine  and Palestinian self-determination.

Librarians and Archivists to Palestine 2013 Delegation:

Bronwen Densmore – New York City College of Technology Molly Fair – Interference Archive; Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative; CUNY TV Che Gossett Amy Greer – Doctoral Candidate, Simmons College Blair Kuntz – Near and Middle East Studies Librarian, University of Toronto Grace Lile – WITNESS Josh MacPhee – Interference Archive; Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative Rachel Mattson – University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Hannah Mermelstein – Saint Ann’s School Library; Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel Andrea Miller-Nesbitt – Liaison Librarian, McGill University Bekezela Mguni – Independent Librarian; New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice Melissa Morrone – Public Librarian Vani Natarajan – Barnard College Library Elisabet Risberg- Librarian, The International Library in Stockholm Maggie Schreiner – Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive; Rude Mechanical Orchestra

All organizational affiliations are listed for identification  purposes only and in no way indicate a position taken by such  organizations on the issues raised in this statement.

This piece was posted by Librarians and Archivists to Palestine.

Update: An earlier version of this statement listed the call number as DS119.75. Birzeit University librarians have clarified that DS128.4 was the number assigned during the First Intifada, whereas it appears that the Library of Congress assigned a new number (DS119.75) after the Intifada ended. Birzeit University continues to use DS128.4. We apologize for the error.

Librarians group calls for boycott to stop ‘erasure of Palestinian culture and history’

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