Neither Sex nor Sedition: Israeli Army Censors What Soldiers in Jail Can Read

‘50 Shades of Grey’ and an anti-colonial study have been deemed unsuitable; officially, only books with racist or sexual content are banned

Soldier being led into military court.
An IDF soldier being led into military court. Tal Cohen

Sex is off limits as a subject of literary exploration by incarcerated Israeli soldiers. Nor are they permitted to read books that could be interpreted as calling for revolt.

In response to a question from Haaretz, the army spokesman’s office said in a statement that any book may be brought into military prison, with the exception of ones with racist or sexual content. “There is no blacklist of prohibited books. The decision on whether to confiscate a book is left to the commanding officer,” the statement said.

As a result of that leeway, sometimes books containing violence, or whose titles suggest as much, have been taken away, along with ones that are judged by prison staff to call for insurrection.

A few months ago, a female soldier who was imprisoned for disciplinary infractions was barred from bringing the dark erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey” into prison.

Last week, conscientious objector Hadas Tal entered military prison and was barred from bringing in Sven Lindqvist’s “Exterminate all the Brutes,” describing colonialism and imperialism in Europe and Africa. She was told the book could encourage revolt. Later the army admitted that the book had been confiscated in “good faith” but wrongly, and it was returned to her.

In another instance, soldiers were told the only books they could bring were religious ones.