Thousands of ancient Arabic- language documents, manuscripts and books from five Arab libraries in Jerusalem’s Old City will soon be available online, under an EU-sponsored initiative that aims to preserve Palestinian heritage for future generations.

The Arabic Manuscripts Digital Library of Jerusalem, which was inaugurated last week at ceremonies in Jerusalem and Ramallah, will see the development of an online platform showcasing collections from the Khalidi Library, the Budeiri Library, Al-Aksa Library, Al- Ansari Library and the Wakf Restoration Center in the Old City. The project’s stated goal is to “promote the written heritage of east Jerusalem and to make this heritage accessible to all with the sole caveat of an Internet connection.”

“We are putting it online ultimately to preserve and protect manuscripts,” Christophe Graz, project manager, Euromed Heritage- 4, Regional Monitoring and Support Unit, told The Jerusalem Post. Euromed Heritage-4 runs several heritage projects in the region, including the Manumed Project, which focuses on the preservation of written material and is overseeing the digital library project in Jerusalem.

Graz, who was in Jerusalem last week to launch the digital library project, said that as well as preserving historic documents, another of the main goals is to encourage private individuals and families that are holding manuscripts, papers or books to contribute them to the digital library.

With a budget of more than $2 million, Graz insisted that project had no political agenda. He said, however: “we are aware that culture and heritage is particularly threatened by the politics here.”

Carol Giordano, project manager of Manumed, which has already created a corpus of digital documents from various Mediterranean countries – taking papers and artifacts from libraries, archives and museums, as well as from public and private collections in the region – said that while there are no immediate plans to digitalize ancient Hebrew documents from Jerusalem, some of those contained in the global online database are in Hebrew.

Also in Jerusalem for the digital library launch, Giordano explained that the process of digitalizing ancient manuscripts is a lengthy and delicate. He said it could take up to three years before all the works from Arab libraries in the Old City are placed online.

“We hope that by digitalizing these manuscripts we will be able to preserve them and allow more people to access them,” Giordano told the Post.

Among the manuscripts that will soon be available online are ancient copies of the Koran and other Islamic religious texts, as well as works of science, math and history. Collections at Al- Aksa Library and the Islamic Museum include artifacts and remains representing facets of Islamic civilization.

The Budeiri Library, which was founded by Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Budeir, features manuscripts he purchased from famous collectors and those that once belonged to well-known Jerusalem families. The Khalidi Library (al-Maktaba al- Khalidiyya) contains documents relating to Islamic classics.

The books and other documents that have already been digitalized by a local team trained by Manumed will be available for public viewing online in a few weeks. The service is free and comes in a multilingual format.

The Arabic Manuscripts Digital Library of Jerusalem is one of three projects run by Euromed Heritage-4 program that aim to preserve and revitalize Palestinian cultural heritage.

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