Embedded deep within the annexed precincts of East Jerusalem, the Khalidi Library harbors an invaluable hoard exemplified by Palestinian historical documents that unveil a rarely showcased slice of the city’s vibrant past. With commendable fervor, Rami Salameh, an expert molded by Italian academia, dedicates himself to the painstaking restoration of these priceless artifacts.

The primary corpus of these documents springs from the Khalidi Library itself, the proud guardian of the most extensive collection of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts within Palestinian territories. The library’s treasure trove also boasts works in Persian, German and French, crowned by an impressive array of Victor Hugo’s writings. Established in 1900 by Raghib al-Khalidi, a distinguished Palestinian intellectual alumnus of the Sorbonne, the library was birthed following his mother Khadija’s posthumous wish. Strategically positioned at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, it offers a bird’s-eye view of the Western Wall, a revered Jewish site. The library’s precious resources comprise books, letters, decrees from the Ottoman Empire and memoirs, affording an invaluable perspective on the city’s earlier existence. “These manuscripts allude to the cultural and social standing of Jerusalem’s residents and attest to the Palestinian presence here for centuries,” Khader Salameh, the custodian of the librarian collection avowed.

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem’s heart, the Khalidi Library cradles an estimable fortune exemplified by Palestinian historical documents that unfurl a seldom exposed chapter of the city’s narrative. With praiseworthy passion, Rami Salameh, an Italian-trained specialist, applies himself to the scrupulous restoration of these treasured relics. “These manuscripts span a diverse array of themes, from legal texts and astronomy to a biography of Muhammad and the Qur’an,” Rami Salameh elaborated, as he delicately polished an Arabic grammar text with his brush in his snug workshop.

Over the past two years, he managed to breathe new life into roughly 1,200 pages of a dozen manuscripts from private Palestinian libraries. Some of these texts bear witness to the Ottoman reign, dating back 200 to 300 years. However, since the Six-Day War’s annexation of the Old City by Israel in 1967, Palestinian families and institutions in East Jerusalem often face evictions, actions deemed illegal by the United Nations and the international community. A portion of the library was appropriated by Israeli authorities to establish a Jewish religious school. Despite these challenges, the library remains steadfast in its mission to safeguard and disseminate Jerusalem’s Arab cultural heritage, particularly through a digitization program supported by local and international organizations.

Meanwhile, Shaimaa Al-Budeiri, the head of digital archives, actively photographs pages and uploads them to her computer. To date, she has digitized approximately 2.5 million pages of manuscripts, newspapers, rare books and other documents from Jerusalem’s four private libraries. Budeiri dreams of garnering additional funding to procure costly equipment, such as acid-free storage boxes, and modernizing her workshop, which is currently too humid to handle such delicate paper.

“When I see someone mishandling a book, I feel as if the book is in pain,” she confided. “A book is a giver; it never takes anything away.”c