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حوليات القدس
jerusalem quarterly
Summer 2001,13

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The Looted Archives of the Orient House

During the early morning hours of August 10, 2001, the Israeli police raided the Orient House. They closed its offices, along with nine other Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, in a retaliatory response to the previous day‘s Palestinian suicide attack in which 15 Israelis were killed.

This act was seen both locally and internationally as an Israeli escalation of the conflict more drastic than the bombardment of Palestinian cities, and even the assassination of military and political figures in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) areas - and for good reason.

The Orient House constituted the main and, until this summer, only representation of Palestinian political institutions in the city. In this capacity, it was recognized by all the international powers involved in the peace negotiations since the Madrid conference in 1991. Moreover, the Israeli government had underwritten this legitimacy in the letter of assurances sent by then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart, the late Johan Jurgen Holst, on October 11th, 1993.

Speaking for the Israeli government, Peres assured the world that it confirmed the "great importance" of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and that "[Israel would] not hamper their activity." These assurances, like the terms of the Oslo Accords, are binding under international law on all subsequent Israeli governments.

That is why, when the Likud government, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, attempted to close the Orient House a few years ago, the United States and the Europeans reminded Israel that such an act would constitute a breach of contract and be a grave violation of the terms of the Oslo Accords. Subsequently, the Israeli government refrained from carrying out its threats to interfere with Palestinian activities in the city. However, such protestations seem to have less influence on the Sharon Government and its Labor allies. Even Peres - occupying the same post as he did in 1993 - seems oblivious to his role in this violation of internationally signed agreements.

Undoubtedly, the PNA played a shortsighted role in the continued closure of the Orient House by delaying the appointment of a successor to Faisal al-Husseini, holder of the PLO Jerusalem File, after his untimely death this summer. Strikingly, the current protests, both Palestinian and international, have concentrated mainly on the political and diplomatic violation of the OH, to the neglect of the acts of piracy involving the removal of irreplaceable research documents and other valuables - items that have no bearing on the political status of Jerusalem and certainly not on Israeli security.

Items confiscated by the Israeli government included personal belongings, confidential information relating to the Jerusalem issue, and documents referring as far back as the 1991 Madrid conference. Even the office of the late Faisal al-Husseini was completely emptied. Impounded under the pretext of "security," the archives contain numerous documents and files that are integral to future development strategies for East Jerusalem and to the assistance of Palestinian negotiators.

The Israeli government‘s arrogant assertion of power does not change the reality that, since 1967, Jerusalem has been a divided city with its Palestinian population predominantly serviced by the Orient House and other PLO institutions. However, although initial condemnation of Sharon‘s latest attempt to eliminate the PNA‘s presence in Jerusalem was widely heard, now - nearly a month since the Israeli take-over - public protestations are but a distant memory.

Aside from the much-mooted political theories that lie behind Sharon‘s maneuver, what then is the significance of the looting? In part, this issue‘s photo essay, which highlights the Arab Studies Society photography collection located in the Orient House building, provides an answer. This collection - also pillaged from the Orient House - represents a unique record of Jerusalem‘s ethno-graphic relations among its 19th and 20th century population. Although its theft is unlikely to arouse anger as long as people remain unaware of its significance or even of its existence, it is an irreplaceable and invaluable archive.

One cannot forget Israel‘s record with stolen documents. During the 1948 War, several private collections of books and manuscripts were looted by the Haganah militia, and never returned (cf. John Rose, Armenians of Jerusalem, 1995). Several of those collections, including the private papers of Khalil al-Sakakini, ended up in the library of the Hebrew University.

In 1982, as the PLO evacuated Beirut, Israeli forces sequestered the Palestine Research Center‘s entire archive, which consisted of some 25,000 volumes in Arabic, Hebrew and French and served as a depository of Palestine‘s historical, political, and cultural heritage. Two years later, in 1983, following international pressure, the Israelis returned the archival collection - minus the film collection - to the Palestinians, who subsequently moved it to Cyprus.

Looting of national archives is not a new phenomenon, and similar acts - albeit on a larger scale - have occurred throughout history, including during many 20th century wars. However, in this case, there are two important differences: this pillage occurred despite a signed agreement between the two opposing sides; and it occurred under conditions of military occupation rather than war.

Articles from the same author

Memoirs as History ... Summer 2000, Issue 9

My Last Days as an Ottoman Subject ... Summer 2000, Issue 9

Jerusalem Chronology ... Summer 2000, Issue 9

American Chutzpah ... Spring 2000, Issue 8

The PLO-Vatican Agreement ... Spring 2000, Issue 8

Jerusalem Chronology ... Spring 2000, Issue 8

The Burden of the Past ... Winter 2000, Issue 7

Jerusalem Chronology ... Winter 2000, Issue 7

Framing Jerusalem ... Autumn 1999, Issue 6

The Arab Studies Society Library ... Autumn 1999, Issue 6

Open Museums, Closed Barriers ... Autumn 2013, Issue 55

Farewell to Ilan Halevi ... Autumn 2013, Issue 55

Editorial ... Summer 2013, Issue 54

The King’s Illegal Journey ... Spring 2013, Issue 53

In this issue ... Winter 2013, Issue 52

Editorial ... Summer 2012, Issue 50

Promises, Promises ... Summer 1999, Issue 5

The Violence of Exclusion ... Spring 2012, Issue 49

Editorial ... Autumn 2011, Issue 47

Editorial ... Summer 2011, Issue 46

Editorial ... Spring 2011, Issue 45

Editorial ... Winter 2010, Issue 44

Editorial ... Autumn 2010, Issue 43

Cinemas and Checkpoints ... Summer 2010, Issue 42

Editorial ... Spring 2010, Issue 41

Conflicts and Contradictions ... Spring 1999, Issue 4

The Khalidiyah Library ... Winter 1999, Issue 3

Jerusalem Diary ... Winter 2006, Issue 25

The Israeli Agenda for Jerusalem ... Sumer 2005, Isssue 24

When Native Jews Ceased to be Arabs ... August 2004, Issue 21

(February 2004 - August 2004) ... August 2004, Issue 21

A Letter to a Friend ... January 2004, Issue 20

(October - January 2004) ... January 2004, Issue 20

(June - September, 2003) ... October 2003, Issue 19

The Looted Archives of the Orient House ... Summer 2001, Issue 13

Jerusalem Chronology ... Summer 2001, Issue 13

Editorial: A War to End all Peace ... Winter 2013/Spring 2014, Issue 56/57

Challenging Borders ... Border Zones, Issue 38

Childhood Misery as a Trope for Redemption ... Jerusalem Childhoods,Issue 37

Theft in Full View of the Law ... Winter 2007, Issue 29

Jerusalem Diary ... Winter 2007, Issue 29

Modernity and Memory ... Autumn 2006, Issue 28

Jerusalem Diary ... Autumn 2006, Issue 28

Of Significant Lives, and Better Days ... Summer 2006, Issue 27

Jerusalem Diary ... Summer 2006, Issue 27

Jerusalem Diary ... Spring 2006, Issue 26

Maqdisi: An 11th Century Palestinian Consciousness ... Fall & Winter 2005, Issue 22-23

New Focus on Jerusalem ... Fall 1998, Issue 2

(September - January, 2003) ... June 2003, Issue 18

Jerusalem Chronology ... February 2003, Issue 17

Aug 1 - Oct31, 2001 ... Autumn 2001, Issue 14

Jerusalem Diary ... Spring 2009, Issue 34

Jerusalem Diary ... Winter 2008, Issue 33

Jerusalem’s Anata Out of Options ... Autumn 2007, Issue 32

Jerusalem Diary ... Spring 2007, Issue 30



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