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Library Group Throws the Book at Destruction of Palestinian Libraries

July 1, 2002
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The largest association of libraries in the world has passed a resolution deploring the destruction of Palestinian libraries and cultural resources during Israel’s invasion of the West Bank this spring.

The resolution by the council of the American Library Association, the organization’s governing policy body, was toned down from an earlier version. That version, debated at the group’s convention earlier this month in Atlanta, directly blamed the Israeli government for the destruction.

But the resolution still is sparking criticism, with the Anti-Defamation League calling it “one-sided” and “troubling and wrong.”

Yahel Vilan, consul for public affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, denied that the Israeli army was to blame for any damage to Palestinian libraries or cultural institution, stating that areas “used as a safe haven for terrorists and snipers” may “be caught in the cross fire.”

The new resolution calls for an international investigation by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, a group that in previous years has used U.N. funding to rebuild libraries in war-stricken countries like Kosovo.

Thomas Twiss, a librarian at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the ALA social response roundtable, submitted the original resolution, which deplored the destruction of “Palestinian cultural resources” by “Israeli forces” and called upon the “Israeli government to refrain from further actions of this type.”

Michael Dowley, director of the association’s international relations office, said the changes in the resolution reflect ALA policy that “if libraries are being destroyed, we don’t want to see that happen.”

The ALA was “not getting into the politics” of the situation in Middle East, he insisted.

But Jewish groups weren’t buying it.

“The bottom line is, it is still singling out Israel,” Deborah Lauter, the ADL’s Southeast director, said of the new resolution. “A few individuals who have their own political agenda present information to people who may not be informed and who let it happen. I wish they’d stop.”

In an interview with JTA, Twiss cited a statement from Palestinian Culture Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and articles from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

These sources, Twiss said, document the destruction at the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Culture in Ramallah. The city has seen several intensive Israeli military operations over the past year.

He defended his resolution with media documentation of acts of defecation and graffiti in the Palestinian establishments, examples he claims demonstrates that the damages did not come in the heat of battle.

Vilan, however, said, “The Israeli Defense Forces do not indiscriminately destroy Palestinian cultural or academic institutions.”

“We don’t target libraries, we don’t burn books,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “This would seem, on face value, to be an anti-Israel resolution.”

The resolution marks a decade-long trend of controversial Israel-based resolutions by the ALA, according to an ADL memo:

In 1992, the ALA passed a resolution “condemning Israel for censorship and human rights violations,” but rescinded it a year later because of a procedural error.

In 1994, an ALA task force on Israeli censorship and Palestinian liberation was abolished, while the committee’s chair, David Williams, was censured from holding any office in the roundtable for three years.

A task force member at the time said Williams “has disregard and insensitivity to his collaborators regarding the issues of Jewish ethnic identity.” Williams had organized a lecture by Jeffrey Blankfort discussing “Zionist-Nazi Collusion Theory and the Role of the Judenrat Collaborators in Nazi Germany.”

In a 1994 ALA session called “The West Bank and Gaza Since the Oslo Accords and the Needs of Palestinian Libraries,” Cheryl Rubenberg gave a lecture criticizing the peace accords as “biased toward Israel.” An ADL official described the lecture as “an anti-Semitic approach to a difficult situation,” and said the speech “contained very few facts, bore no supporting data and had many inaccuracies.”

Other, more recent, task force resolutions have harshly criticized U.S. government foreign policy: One, in 1999, advocated lifting U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq; another in 2002 declared opposition to the war in Afghanistan and charged that the U.S. “war against terrorism” would “encourage the use of unconstitutionally obtained evidence.”

Twiss also played down the need to address accusations of rampant anti-Semitism in Muslim and Arab textbooks, saying that “bias” cannot be compared to “massive destruction of cultural resources.”

Lauter called that statement “ridiculous.”

If the group “wants to look at what’s causing the violence in the Middle East, look at the textbooks being distributed” in Muslim and Arab countries, she said.

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