A Question of Responsibility
cultural looting/seizure in Palestine
David Ben-Gurion
Absentee Property Law
sovereign and moral responsibility
Assets and Goods’ Awda – claiming the return of seized/looted property
goods and cultural treasures
Reviewed Book

In this review of Adam Raz’s Looting of Arab Property during the War of Independence (2020, in Hebrew) Rona Sela critiques the book as dealing with the subject from a Zionist perspective and accepting Ben-Gurion’s attitude of reducing official/ state responsibility for the massive theft against Palestine and Palestinians, and being unconcerned that looting/seizures violated international law. Sela points out that Raz shows that the government made manipulative political use of the “looting” in its drive to ethnically cleanse what would become the State of Israel while arguing, at the same time, that the responsibility lies with the individual (Jewish) citizens of that state, who became “passive accomplices” of its policies. According to Sela, by Raz not distinguishing between individual looting and organized official seizure, he is led to minimize the direct responsibility of the sovereign and adopt biased conclusions that contradict, conceal, reframe, and whitewash the testimonies and cases described in his own book.

While the pillaging and seizure of Jewish private property during the Holocaust is always on the Israeli public agenda, the looting and pillaging of Palestinian property and culture has been largely silenced. Just as Israel demands and receives compensation for Jewish stolen property and for crimes committed against them, Sela argues that compensation for the crimes perpetrated against Palestinians must be on the agenda – morally, legally, and practically – and that Israel must reveal the Palestinian textual and cultural treasures held and hidden in Israeli archives and return them to their rightful owners.

Author biography: 

Rona Sela, a curator and visual history researcher, focuses on colonial Zionist/ Israeli photography and archives, seizure and looting of Palestinian archives and their subjugation to repressive mechanisms, and constructing alternative postcolonial visual practices and archives. Sela is the director of a film-essay: Looted and Hidden: Palestinian Archives in Israel (2017), online at vimeo.com/213851191 (accessed 25 March 2021).

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