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How Saudi Arabia is Preserving an Unprecedented Collection of Palestinian History


Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Unsplash

A large-scale conservation effort of Arab and Islamic culture is underway in Saudi Arabia. The latest project led by the King Abdul Aziz Public Library (KAPL) in Riyadh has digitized an unprecedented collection of archival footage on Jerusalem’s history, providing a rich legacy of written and visual representations of the Arab world’s past that is now easily accessible online.

Sourcing more than 250,000 pages from books, maps, and manuscripts, this is the largest documented archive of the holy city in the Arab Union Catalog, a nonprofit initiative between a network of Arab libraries and other informational institutions that collects, shares, and catalogs historical records. In collaboration with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), KAPL has also compiled nearly 1,000 Jerusalem court records, contributing to the foundation of a growing database of Palestinian libraries in the Arab Union Catalog. In addition, hundreds of photographs of ancient Jerusalem have also been found, providing a tangible spotlight on this Unesco World Heritage site‘s culture that may have otherwise been forgotten, lost, or misconstrued.

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Saudi Arabia is an ardent advocate of cultural preservation in the region and KAPL itself has more than 3 million books, documents, and rare photographs of the region in its fabled halls, with a large portion dedicated to chronicling Palestine and its vital past. Dating back as far as 1528, these recently added records now virtually housed at the UNRWA Libraries Network preserves the collective identity of the Palestinian people and plays an irreplaceable role in protecting the traditions and heritage of Arab civilizations across significant periods of time. Digitizing this information not only guarantees widespread access to this knowledge throughout the Middle East and the world overall but also helps to record this inimitable history of humanity for the rest of eternity.

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