Israel-Russia deal gives ancient books new life online

Israel’s National Library
Updated 07 November 2017

Israel-Russia deal gives ancient books new life online

JERUSALEM: Israeli and Russian libraries will sign an agreement Tuesday to digitise and publish a treasured collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and books, effectively putting to rest a 100-year ownership dispute.
The Guenzburg collection contains nearly 2,000 manuscripts and some 14,000 books, some of them hundreds of years old, on a wide range of religious, artistic and scientific topics.
Among them are works on the Bible, Jewish law, mathematics and philosophy, including by Aristotle and Jewish philosopher Maimonides.
When Russian Jewish owner Baron David Guenzburg died over a century ago, it was considered “one of the largest and most important private collections in the world,” according to Aviad Stollman, head of Israel’s National Library collections.
Zionist Jews bought the collection from Guenzburg’s widow in 1917 with the aim of shipping it to the Holy Land library that would evolve into the National Library, Stollman said, but World War I was raging and prevented that possibility.
After the Russian Revolution, the collection was expropriated and eventually taken to the Russian State Library in Moscow, where it is still held.
The agreement to be signed in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening between the Russian State Library and the Israeli National Library will see the Russian library taking high resolution digital photographs of the collection.
The photos will then be handed to the Israeli library who will post the collection on their Ktiv website, the vast digitised collection of Hebrew manuscripts from libraries and collections around the world.
The Guenzburg collection, which contains unique items, has been available to researchers at the Russian State Library, and the Israeli library was allowed to create microfilm images of it in the 1990s for its own use.
Over the years the Israeli National Library attempted to retrieve the collection, but evidence of its purchase from Guenzburg’s widow “does not satisfy the Russians,” Stollman said.
Talks at the “highest levels” in the past years, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, enabled the agreement.
Dagestani-Russian business tycoon Ziyavudin Magomedov of the Summa Group has committed to support the work at the Russian State Library, expected to begin with the manuscripts, Stollman said.
With the agreement in place, whether or not the Zionists bought the collection from Guenzburg’s widow a hundred years ago “doesn’t really matter,” Stollman said.
“We’re putting aside the question of ownership and looking forward,” he said ahead of the ceremony.
“Digitising won’t only help preserve the important works but enable simple and easy access,” he said. “Our goal is to make these manuscripts accessible to everyone for free, from anywhere in the world.”


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.