Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why Israel Won’t Let Its Arab Citizens Read Bambi

Little of Haaretz's "Culture and Literature" section is translated into English. That is a pity because an article appeared in that supplement entitled, "They are trying to dictate to us what to read." Read it in Hebrew here.

According to the article by Gish Amit, the Israeli government, since August 2008, has clamped down on the importing of all Arabic books from Syria and Lebanon. They based this new practice on a pre-state, 1939 mandatory regulation that forbade the importing of books from enemy states. (Presumably, that meant Nazi Germany.)

This mandatory regulation has never been enforced in Israel's existence – until last year.

Israeli Palestinian booksellers who import large number of books for Israel's Palestinian citizens saw their books confiscated; in some cases, through proteksia and maneuvering, they were able to get a temporary waiver. But that is now over.

How important are these books? According to the Haaretz article, 80% of the books needed for Israeli Palestinians, including children's literature, dictionaries, etc., are printed in Beirut and Damascus. Of course, there are many books published in Cairo, such as the Harry Potter series, and these are ok. But why prevent children from reading Bambi and Tigger, printed in Lebanon

Or more importantly, getting the needed Arabic books and dictionaries at affordable prices.

Now what's the government's case? It doesn't want to support the publishing industry of countries with which Israel is at war.

That would be reasonable if there were an alternative place to get the books, and if the regulation had been enforced at any time in Israeli history.

But this just seems a measure intended to hassle Israeli Palestinian book importers, whose livelihood is at stake, and to control the material read by Israeli Palestinians.

Thanks are due to Gish Amit and Haaretz, for bringing this item to the public's attention during Hebrew Book Week, the national celebration of Hebrew publishing.


Avram said...

Shouldn't these books be available in Iraq, Turkey, or other Arabic countries that are not enemy states on our border?

Interesting why those books aren't published in Egypt though - Is there a reason or 'just because'?

Michael W. said...

This is hardly a thing to complain about considering the bigger problems Israel and the rest of the Middle East faces.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W. I don't agree, and I think that your thinking on this one is off.

If 80% of the Arabic books needed for Israeli Palestinian education are prevented from reaching them because of an arbitrary and new application of a Mandatory regulation, then that is just another of many examples of the the attempt of the government to deprive 20% of its citizen of education, and to keep them behind.

Would you like your country to ban books needed for your education?

Mary-Lee said...

MichaelW. I disagree. It's not just Bambi that's being censored here, I'm sure. Probably the ban also includes any books that speak of a Palestinian history.

I do think that history should be presented as accurately as possible, but the stories people tell themselves about themselves are what make up a national identity. They give people "roots." Maybe it's these "roots" that Israel is trying to stifle?

Tobias said...

@ Avram
Why would Arabian books available from Turkey (which is not an Arab country)?

In any case: Banning books, whatever the reasoning is, is never good.

Avram said...

"@ Avram
Why would Arabian books available from Turkey (which is not an Arab country)?

In any case: Banning books, whatever the reasoning is, is never good."

Because Turkey has a population that does speak Arabic, and could probably very well import books from Arab countries that suit the Palestinian/Israeli Arab readership.

Israel isn't 'banning books', they are not allowing the purchasing of books from two enemy states. I hope they can find a country that does print these books in Arabic ... Unlike Jerry, I'd rather not help any countries who allow support of Hezbollah or similar groups.

Jerry Haber said...


In Turkey, the population speaks Turkish, which is not a semitic language.

Importing Arabic books doesn't support Hizbollah. If it did, why would it have been legal for the last sixty years?

By the way, in the article, the Israeli Arab book importers say that also get criticism from the Syrians, when they offer Arabic translations of Israeli writers. The Syrians claim that the Israeli Arabs are supporting the Enemy by marketing the books.

Now where have I heard that argument before.

Avram said...

Jerry -

There are many areas of Southern & South Western Turkey that have Arabic speaking populations (albeit small in the #s game I'm sure). In fact, I know quite a few of them - they daven at my shul and they speak fluent Arabic & Turkish.

"Importing Arabic books doesn't support Hizbollah. If it did, why would it have been legal for the last sixty years?"

Are you saying no money that goes into purchasing those books ended up with Hezbollah or people who actively push their agenda in Lebanese politics? Your last question, I don't know how to answer as I didn't set the policies, but I obviously get the point you're trying to make.

I know you don't agree with my take here, and I have no issues with that - to each his own.