Palestinian Archives in Jerusalem and the 1948 areas
Compiled by Lauren Banco
-Al Ansari Library: Amr Bin Elis St., in between Nablus Road and Salah al-Din street, close to the Nablus Road bus station
There is no sign for this library nor is it recognizable. There is a small passageway in between a salon and a car rental lot. You take this, go down stairs, and the library entrance is to the right, and the library is at the bottom of a set of stairs. The people in the businesses on this street all know where the library entrance is.
Fahmi Ansari is the head librarian, and has been so for many years. The library is one of the few private libraries left in East Jerusalem and contains books, documents, newspapers and magazines. Mr Ansari knows where to find just about anything or anyone you may need for research in Jerusalem, related to Palestine.
-Al Aqsa Mosque Library: Inside the Haram al Sharif, open from 8-2 Sundays-Wednesdays. The head librarian is Khader Salami.
Non-Muslims can only access the library through the tourists’ Western Wall entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli police will not allow non-Muslims to access the library through any other of the gates. However, if you’re confident in reciting verses and suras of the Quran to claim you are Muslim, you can possibly enter without a problem. Not surprisingly, Israel targets the mosque’s own sheikhs and those who run the Wafq by often denying them entrance to the Haram area. For reasons such as this, the library no longer gives permits to scholars to show to the police to access the complex via other gates, as these permits are meaningless to the Israeli police and create suspicion targeted at the library.
In terms of resources, the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library has a large and digitalized collected of Palestinian newspapers and magazines from the beginning of the twentieth century and through the Mandate period, which includes titles not held in the main newspaper archive for Palestinian papers at the Hebrew University library. The problems with access to the Al Aqsa Library are significant for researchers: since the library is open such few hours during the week, it is difficult for outsider researchers to access it in this limited time period, especially when they are not allowed to pass through Bab al-Mahgribi or Bab al-Silsila gates and must wait in at least two queues and pass through two security screenings by entering through the Western Wall gate. Further, I have also been told by two different Israeli security guards at the Western Wall gate that no such library existed in the Haram.
Inside the Old City walls, located on Bab al-Silsila street, near the Khalidyya Ascent, along the way to the Western Wall, it is also unmarked. However, as the proprietor herself said and as I found out more than once, everyone on the street, even the young fruit juice sellers, know who she is and where she lives and will show you her house. The library is open at various times and by appointment, as the proprietor, Haifa Khalidi, is not always in Jerusalem. Her home is across the street from the library and she is happy to show researchers its collection. The library is one of the oldest, most well-known and respected in Jerusalem, and contains holdings from the Khalidi family. Unfortunately, Haifa has been ordered several times to move the library by the Israelis, who built a synagogue against the library property. The library was also the victim of looting by the Israelis who have systematically stolen property from Palestinian libraries in Jerusalem at the time of the creation of Israel and during occupations of Jerusalem.
The library currently holds an impressive amount of rare and very old books from the Arab world and Iran, as well as elsewhere. It also has a small newspaper collection of both Arab and Turkish newspapers published in Palestine from before the First World War.
-Arab Studies Society/Orient House: One of the most-often closed and looted Palestinian archives in Jerusalem. I honestly have no idea where its documents are now located, as it had previously been in the Shephard’s Hotel. The website, which appears not to be updated, lists Ishaq Budeiri as the director. The building was also the PLO headquarters in Jerusalem and the former home of the Mufti. I am currently hoping to hear back from various directors who worked within the archive.
-Kenyon Insitute: 15 Mount of Olives Road, Sheikh Jarrah, open Sun-Thurs. 8:30am-5pm. The Kenyon Institute is part of the British Council for Research in the Levant and funded by the British Academy. It is known for formerly being a British archeology research centre in Jerusalem from the days of the British Mandate. Its library houses mainly archeology texts dealing with Palestine and the wider region, as well as rare books, memoirs of British leaders in Palestine, and general books on Palestine and the region. The Institute has several spaces for visitors to study and do research in and they are welcome to use the library. It is run by both British and Palestinian staff.
-Centre for Islamic Heritage in Abu Dis/former Waqf office: I am still trying to find more information out about this center. Fahmi Al-Ansari was formerly its director and has its contact information, but the centre is open limited hours and is located in Abu Dis. I have no idea how to reach it, but al-Ansari and his son do, and it would be best for them to accompany whoever visits to ensure that the centre can be found. The centre supposedly also has a collection of newspapers that are digitalized and waqf records.
-Hebrew University’s Jewish National University Library (JNUL), Givat Ram Campus. Open Sunday-Thursday, 9am-8pm, Friday, 9am-1pm. The library holds the most extensive Palestinian newspaper collection. The best way to get to this campus from the West Bank is to take the #18 Ramallah-Jerusalem bus through Qalandiya, through Beit Hanina and Shuafat Road, and shortly after the bus crosses the ‘green line,’ it goes for a short distance on a mulit-lane highway, alongside the light rail tracks. You can stop at the station right before the bus turns toward St. Joseph’s hospital, alongside a bus station used by the Arab and Israeli buses. Walk up, to the traffic light, cross the lights, and turn left. There will be a bus station for the Israeli buses a short walk in front of you. Bus #68 goes directly to the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. Get off when you get to the security gate of the campus, and you will walk through the gates, where you must show an ID and go through a metal detector. The library is at the opposite end of the campus from the entrance, as the last building. You only need to check your bags at the front of the library.
The Oriental Reading Room on the first floor contains the Palestinian newspapers. You can search for them in Arabic in the catalogue online or at the library, and must fill out a request form for the newspapers you would like. It can take a day to have them ordered from storage. The newspapers are all on microfilm.
Further, the Oriental Reading Room also holds the largest collection of “abandoned property” Arab books. Just like the Palestinian newspapers, these books are classified by the Israeli Finance Ministry as lost and abandoned property and have been transferred to Israeli ownership and are housed in this library. The newspaper records and the books were taken from various sources in 1947-8, and throughout other times in the history of Israeli occupation, including during the 1982 invasion of Beirut, and the sacking in the early 1990s of the Arab Studies Society/Oriental House kept by the Husayni family in Jerusalem, even though they were legally owned, often for generations, by Palestinian libraries and families. In total it is estimated that 30,000 books, in Arabic and owned by Arabs, were looted though they are not all held in the Jewish National Library.
The abandoned property books are searchable in Arabic only on the library’s database. To access them from the library catalogue: select to search by call number, and enter NNL. The books are listed as “AP books” and can be searched using AP and numbers 1-5750 (there are 5750 books classified as abandoned property and are Arabic books).
Searching the catalogue in Arabic will also yield other books and documents that cannot be found by searching the catalogue in English, and I recommend the searches be done at the library, as some titles, even of the newspapers, are not always accessible through the catalogue from outside the library. I have been told the library also holds documents of some Palestinian leaders, including the personal papers of Khalil al-Sakakini.
-Israel State Archives, 35 Mekor Haim Street, Talpiot, Jerusalem. Open Sunday-Thursday from 8am-4pm. The ISA is located in the far south of Jerusalem, several kilometers from the German Colony neighborhood. It is in an old building that houses departments of the Prime Minister’s office. Reaching the ISA is a bit complicated as the building is not clearly marked and is not on a main road that a bus passes. To reach Mekor Haim in Talpiot, the best bus to take is the #21 from King George V Street in the center of West Jerusalem. The bus passes through the German Colony and into the industrial area of Talpiot. I have found the best place to get off the bus is at the stop once coming into Talpiot—be aware of signs—near a petrol station. There is a bus stop here and a road sign that says ‘Mekor Haim’ with an arrow pointing to the right. After the gas station, there is a road to the right and this is Mekor Haim. Stay on this road, it winds a bit but through a residential-type area with apartment buildings. After a 7-10 minute walk, you will reach #35, which is not so clearly marked, but is a building on the left. On the façade of the building are small plaques indicating that this is a building of the prime minister’s office and the Israel State Archives are there. You will need to show ID when you walk in the door, which is on the side of the building. Take the elevator to the third floor, and again you must give ID in order to get a locker and register to use the reading room. Once entering the reading room, the archivists will be happy to assist you, as the catalogue online to search for documents is in Hebrew, but can be searched with English words and phrases.
The ISA is the national archive for not only the state of Israel, but also holds thousands of Ottoman ‘tapu’ registers, British Mandate documents as well as documents called ‘abandoned Arab property’, as well as Supreme Muslim Council, Sharia court documents, and property documents from the Mandate. The Mandate and Arab documents are not necessarily searchable as a group, because their classifications in the archives are not all the same—various documents are under the Chief Secretary’s Office (British Mandate), Islamic Affairs, Religious Affairs, and under Hebrew headlines as well. The best way to search is to use key words or terms and go from there. You may be able to find several categories that seem to hold similar documents.
The documents are a mix of scanned and physical documents. For those that have been scanned, you do not need to order them but can look at them on the computers in the reading room. They are only able to be viewed at the ISA and not from personal computers. The documents which are not scanned must be ordered and will be brought out to go through. You can photocopy documents via a pay-as-you-go coin machine, and the staff are able to create photo CDs of the scanned documents, which costs about the same as photocopying pages, plus the cost of the CD itself.
I cannot categorize all of the documents at the ISA except to say there are thousands of Arab and British documents, in both English and in Arabic, which are not found in the British Mandate collections in London and Oxford, England. They range from property documents to documents of various youth, social and political clubs from Arab towns and villages to protests to the British and League of Nations against the Mandate and Zionist project, to Arab Executive Congress minutes and Arab delegation minutes. There are also police reports and special reports dealing with disturbances and the general strike and Revolt of 1936-1939. It is impossible to go through all of these documents in any short length of time, as I think it would take months to categorize every document relating to Palestine and the Mandate in this archive.
-Givat Haviva Educational Foundation’s Peace Library Press Archive. Located in the northern-central area of Israel near Hadera. This entire library is considered to have the most documents, press titles and articles of archive material for the Israeli Arabs and the press archive includes over 70,000 titles and 400 journals which include a Palestinian Press Archive with press titles from the British Mandate period and from post-1948, including Al-Ittihad. The press archive is currently being digitalized. It is a collaborative project between Palestinian and Israeli archivists who co-direct the institute, UNESCO, Cambridge University, and the International Federation of Library Associations.