Under Pressure: Representation, Information, and The Archive in Palestine

This guide aims to be an entry point to scholarship that deals specifically with problems faced by information institutions such as libraries and archives in Palestine. Information institutions in Palestine face a unique set of pressures that stem from their development alongside a settler-colonial regime and the ongoing occupation of its land. The desire for land has severed not only territorial relationships that often anchor the physical storage of knowledge to a sense of place but also the historical and cultural relations that are constructed through institutions of information. The contributions in this guide offer historical, material, and theoretical analysis of how such conditions came to be historically—that is, how the archive of Palestine has been looted, fractured, dispersed, hidden, and destroyed—and what strategies and tools have been adapted to confront these conditions of absence and silence while trying to preserve and make accessible information about Palestine in the sake of sovereignty.

While this guide is written in the form of a syllabus, it is by no means suggestive of a linear progression. Nor does its organization under weekly themes and categories suggest that this way of holding knowledge is necessarily the most appropriate. Instead, we recognize that any attempt at offering a taxonomy of information in Palestine would be impossible given the paucity of sources and research, fractured by the very conditions of oppression that make it unique. As such, this syllabus offers an ad-hoc ten-week plan to facilitate research into the field, raise discussions about the state of information in Palestine, and promote further inquiry into the historical conditions of LIS in Palestine.

Edit, 2024: As we witness the ongoing genocide in Gaza, we recognize that alongside the destruction of human life and kinship, Palestine has been subjected to cultural genocide. Israel has systematically bombed cultural institutions ranging from religious sites of worship and archaeological excavations to archives and libraries that contain the record of Gaza’s heritage, history, and record of existence. You can read in further detail our report on the destruction of information institutions in Gaza here. As such, we have added an additional module on cultural genocide and Gaza.

1. Identity and the Politics of Representation

Said, Edward W. 1986. After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. Columbia University Press.

Said, Edward W. 2000. “Invention, Memory, and Place.” Critical Inquiry 26 (2): 175–92. https://doi.org/10.1086/448963.

Sa’di, Ahmad H., and Lila Abu-Lughod, eds. 2007. Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Cultures of History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Qato, Mezna. n.d. “Returns of the Archive.” The Nakba Files (blog). https://nakbafiles.org/2016/06/01/returns-of-the-archive/.

Mermelstein, Hannah, and Vani Natarajan. 2014. “In the World Knowledge, Access, and Resistance: A Conversation on Librarians and Archivists to Palestine.” In Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond, edited by Melissa Morrone. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

2. Memory, heritage, and national identity

Makdisi, Saree. 2022. Tolerance Is a Wasteland: Palestine and the Culture of Denial. Oakland: University of California Press.

De Cesari, Chiara. 2019. Heritage and the Cultural Struggle for Palestine. Stanford, California : Stanford University Press,.

Abu El-Haj, Nadia. 2001. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Zerubavel, Yael. 1995. Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition. University of Chicago Press.

Butler, Beverley. 2010. “‘Keys of the Past: Keys to the Future’ – A Critical Analysis of the Construction of the Palestinian National Museum Policy as an Alternative Deconstruction of Routinised International Heritage Discourse.” Present Pasts 2 (1). https://doi.org/10.5334/pp.28.

3. Looting, stealing, and the fracturing of the Palestinian archive

Masalha, Nur. 2012. “Appropriating History: Looting of Palestinian Records, Archives and Library Collections, 1948–2011.” In The Palestine Nakba Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory, 135–47. London: Zed Books.

Sela, Rona. 2018. “The Genealogy of Colonial Plunder and Erasure – Israel’s Control over Palestinian Archives.” Social Semiotics 28 (2): 201–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2017.1291140.

Amit, Gish. 2008. “Ownerless Objects? The Story of the Books Palestinians Left behind in 1948.” Jerusalem Quarterly, 14.

Amit, Gish. 2011. “Salvage or Plunder? Israel’s Collection of Private Palestinian Libraries in West Jerusalem.” Journal of Palestine Studies 40 (4): 6–23. https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2011.XL.4.6.

Fischbach, Michael R. 2003. Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Columbia University Press.

4. The Question of (the archives of) Palestine

Doumani, Beshara. 2009. “Archiving Palestine and the Palestinians: The Patrimony of Ihsan Nimr.” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 36 (Winter).

Habash, Lourdes, and Raed Bader. 2014. “The Palestinian Digital Archive between Anarchy and Anti-Method: A Critical View.” In Tomorrows. Birzeit University.

Davis, Caitlin M. 2016. “Archiving Governance in Palestine.” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, 18.

Heacock, Roger. 2011. “Locating and Opening Palestinian Archives: A National Priority.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1801124.

5. Libraries, Books, and Palestine

Shibli, Adania. 2021. “On Stealing Books and Missing Words.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 42 (6): 687–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2021.1988533.

Khader, Majed. 2012. 2.17 Palestinian Territory, Occupied. Challenges and Obstacles in Palestinian Libraries. Libraries in the Early 21st Century, Volume 2. De Gruyter Saur. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110292855.425/html.

Mermelstein, Hannah. 2011. “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s ‘Abandoned Property’ of 1948.” Jerusalem Quarterly 47.

Habbas, Walid, Jessa Lingel, Ethan Pullman, and Tom Twiss. 2021. “Libraries, Archives, and Palestine: The Struggle Continues.” Progressive Librarian, no. 48 (Spring): 3–6.

Stillman, Larry. n.d. “Books in Space: Contested Territories and Memories,” 23.

Roberts, Deanna K. 2020. “Libraries and Access to Information In Palestine: Impacts of Military Occupation.” Atla Summary of Proceedings, December, 32–57. https://doi.org/10.31046/proceedings.2020.1900.

6. Methods: Fieldwork, archives, oral history and the problems of historiography

Seikaly, Sherene. 2018. “How I Met My Great-Grandfather.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38 (1): 6–20. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-4389931.

Sleiman, Hana. 2016. “The Paper Trail of a Liberation Movement.” The Arab Studies Journal 24 (1): 42–67.

Rouhana, Nadim N., and Areej Sabbagh-Khoury. 2019. “Memory and the Return of History in a Settler-Colonial Context: The Case of the Palestinians in Israel.” Interventions 21 (4): 527–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369801X.2018.1558102.

Banko, Lauren. 2012. “Occupational Hazards, Revisited: Palestinian Historiography.” The Middle East Journal 66 (3): 440–52. https://doi.org/10.3751/66.3.13.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2018. “Doing Things with Archives.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38 (1).

Sleiman, Hana, and Kaoukab Chebaro. 2018. “Narrating Palestine: The Palestinian Oral History Archive Project.” Journal of Palestine Studies 47 (2): 63–76. https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2018.47.2.63.

7. In the Zionist Archives

Azoulay, Ariella. 2015. “Photographic Conditions: Looting, Archives, and the Figure of the ‘Infiltrator.’” Institute for Palestine Studies, no. 61 (Winter): 6–22.

Tirosh, Noam, and Amit M. Schejter. 2020. “The Regulation of Archives and Society’s Memory: The Case of Israel.” Archival Science, March. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-020-09337-w.

Azoulay, Ariella, and Charles S Kamen. 2015. From Palestine to Israel A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950. London: Pluto Press.

Anziska, Seth. 2019. “Special Document File: THE ERASURE OF THE NAKBA IN ISRAEL’S ARCHIVES.” Journal of Palestine Studies 49 (1): 64–76. https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2019.49.1.64.

Akevot, special report: SILENCING: DSDE’s Concealment of Documents in Archives, 2019

8. Cultural Institutions under Occupation

Atshan, Sa’ed, and Katharina Galor. 2021. “Jerusalem, Museums, and Discourses on Settler Colonialism | Institute for Palestine Studies.” Institute for Palestine Studies, no. 87 (Autumn): 138–51.

Saad, Dima. 2019. “Materializing Palestinian Memory: Objects of Home and the Everyday Eternities of Exile.” Jerusalem Quarterly, 15.

Barakat. 2018. “Lifta, the Nakba, and the Museumification of Palestine’s History.” Native American and Indigenous Studies 5 (2): 1. https://doi.org/10.5749/natiindistudj.5.2.0001.

Burke, Francesca. 2020. “Exhibiting Activism at the Palestinian Museum.” Critical Military Studies 6 (3–4): 360–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/23337486.2020.1745473.

Bshara, Khaldun. 2013. “Heritage in Palestine: Colonial Legacy in Postcolonial Discourse.” Archaeologies 9 (2): 295–319. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11759-013-9235-2.

Riemer, Nick. 2021. “The Attack on Palestinian Universities.” Jacobin Magazine. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/12/palestinian-universities-higher-eduction-israeli-violence.

9. Speaking back—the potential history of non-violence and becoming Palestine

Azoulay, Ariella. 2013. “Potential History: Thinking through Violence.” Critical Inquiry 39 (3): 548–74. https://doi.org/10.1086/670045.

Azoulay, Ariella. 2019. Potential History Unlearning Imperialism. New York: Verso.

Butler, Beverley. 2020. “Archives ‘Act Back’: Re-Configuring Palestinian Archival Constellations and Visions of Social Justice.” In Archives, Recordkeeping, and Social Justice. Routledge.

Abbas, Basel, and Ruanne Abou-Rahme. 2013. “The Archival Multitude.” Journal of Visual Culture 12 (3): 345–63. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470412913502031.

Gutman, Yifat. 2021. Memory Activism: Reimagining the Past for the Future in Israel-Palestine. Vanderbilt University Press.

Hochberg, Gil Z. 2021. Becoming Palestine: Toward an Archival Imagination of the Future. Duke University Press.

10. Decolonize

Sayigh, Rosemary. 2015. “Oral History, Colonialist Dispossession, and the State: The Palestinian Case.” Settler Colonial Studies 5 (3): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2014.955945.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2018. “On Archiving as Dissensus.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38 (1): 43–56. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-4389967.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2020. “Imagining Palestine’s Alter-Natives: Settler Colonialism and Museum Politics.” Critical Inquiry 47 (1): 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1086/710906.

Sela, Rona. 2021. “Ghosts in the Archive: The Palestinian Villages and the Decolonial Archives.” GeoJournal, May. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-020-10364-4.

11. Cultural Genocide and Gaza

Abdullah, Daud. 2019. “A Century of Cultural Genocide in Palestine.” In Cultural Genocide, by Jeffrey S. Bachman, 1st ed., 227–45. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351214100-10.

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, Israeli Damage to Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Gaza, October 2023–January 2024.

The Guardian, Destruction of the Palestinian cultural heritage of Gaza – in pictures, January 11th, 2024.

Al Haq, Cultural Apartheid, Israel’s Erasure of Palestinian Heritage in Gaza, February 22nd, 2022

Ficco, Marino. 2023. “Heritage under Siege: The Case of Gaza and a Mysterious Apollo.” Public Archaeology, November, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/14655187.2023.2224656.

Forensic Architecture, Living Archaeology in Gaza, February 23rh, 2022