Bill would allow import of books from Syria, Lebanon
Books translated in "hostile countries" will soon be allowed to be sold in Israel, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided yesterday to support a bill overturning a World War II-era law aimed at blocking information from enemy states.
This will allow the Arabic translations of best-selling children's books like "Harry Potter" and "Pinocchio," as well as Arabic versions of prominent Israeli authors, to be sold here.
Until now, Arabic translations of popular children's books and works by authors like Amos Oz, Yoram Kaniuk and Eshkol Nevo were not available in Israel, because they were printed in hostile countries like Syria and Lebanon. This was because a 1939 British-Mandate era law prohibited literature from being imported from enemy states.
Given the relatively low readership of Arabic-language books in Israel, and the resulting low returns on translations, almost none have been produced in Israel.
The present bill, initiated by MKs Yuli Tamir, Yariv Levin and Zeev Bielski, aims to make literature in Arabic more readily available.
Tamir (Labor) said yesterday, "This would be an important law, one that ensures the freedom of literature and culture of all citizens. Every citizen is entitled to read literature in his mother tongue. This law would end the absence of children's books and belles-lettres for Arabic readers."
The bill calls for freedom to "import books from any country, and allow translations into any language, in order to ensure exposure to a wide array of literature and to expand citizens' rights to rich cultural lives in their native tongues."
The proposal allows security authorities to reject the importation of a certain book or journal for content that could be used for incitement, such as literature denying the Holocaust or encouraging terrorism.
In January, the human rights organization Adalah petitioned the High Court to allow Kol-Bo Sefarim - Israel's largest supplier of Arabic-language textbooks - to import books from Egypt and Jordan that were published in Syria and Lebanon.
The book supplier has imported books from Egypt for three decades, and since 1993, it has imported books from Jordan as well. Most of the books were printed in Syria or Lebanon, but the company had received permission from the chief military censor to import them.
In August of last year, however, Kol-Bo received a letter from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry stating its permit to import books from enemy countries would not be renewed. The letter said such books could not even be imported through countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations, due to the World War II-era law.
Adalah's petition noted that 80 percent of books intended for Israel's Arab community, and most Arabic books destined for college and university libraries in Israel, are printed in Syria and Lebanon, where several large publishing houses hold exclusive rights to translate major Western literary works into Arabic.
Lebanese printing houses hold exclusive rights to translate "Harry Potter" and "Pinocchio," as well as works released by Britain's Ladybird Books, which publishes a variety of popular children's books. The Lebanese printing houses also hold exclusive rights to the Arabic translations of classic works by William Shakespeare and Moliere, and modern works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho.
A handful of Syrian printing houses have exclusive rights to the Arabic translations of Hebrew works by Oz, Kaniuk and Nevo.