Palestinian Authority Bans Novel for 'Threatening Morality and Public Decency'

Abbad Yahya, the author of 'Crime in Ramallah,' said he was summoned for questioning.

The Palestinian police have confiscated copies of a novel by a local author, citing violations of morality and public decency. Abbad Yahya, the author of “Crime in Ramallah,” said he was summoned for questioning but is currently abroad. The book’s distributor, Fuad al-Aklik, was arrested on Monday and was released on Tuesday after questioning.

Palestinian Authority Attorney General Ahmed Barak issued an order on Monday banning the book. He said the novel “contained indecent texts and terms that threaten morality and public decency, which could affect the population, in particular minors.”

Yahya told the website The New Arab that since the order was issued, “The police seized all copies in bookshops from Jenin to Hebron” across the West Bank.

Speaking with the culture section of the Arab48 Arabic website, Yahya said it was clear that the authorities and the book’s detractors had not read the entire novel and were not treating it as a literary work. He voiced concern about violations of artistic freedom and freedom of expression in areas under PA jurisdiction.

Writing on his Facebook page, Yahya noted that before the ban was imposed, he was contacted by an official from the economic crimes section of the prosecutors’ department. She notified him, in explaining the summons, that there were problems with issuing a license and other permits for publishing the book. He told her an author doesn’t need permits, only distribution of his book, but his impression was that she didn’t understand what he was talking about.

The deputy minister of communications summoned the book’s distributor a few days before the ban was imposed and told him that they were considering taking steps against the book.

The book is Yahya’s fourth, depicts the lives of three young men after the second intifada. It describes, through the way they deal with a crime they witnessed, the social and political changes Palestinian society is going through.

The ban and book confiscations immediately evoked criticism and condemnation on the part of Palestinian novelists and poets, artists, art critics, jurists and social activists on both sides of the Green Line. They expressed concern that this could snowball into limitations on freedom of expression and artistic liberty. So far criticism has surfaced mainly on social media. The PLO’s culture department, headed by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, asked the attorney general to rescind the ban.

“To use the term public decency is a form of manipulation and unacceptable justification because it has no legal or logical definition. It opens the doors for an endless censorship, which violates freedom of expression and the right to creative writing,” the statement issued by the culture department said.

The Independent Commission for Human Rights asked the attorney general to suspend all legal proceedings against the author, such as summoning him for questioning and confiscating his books. It voiced concern that the instruction would unleash a wave of incitement against the author and other persons involved in its distribution.

The ICHR, a PA agency, is charged with ensuring that PA institutions obey the law and protect human rights. The ICHR serves as a public ombudsman. It noted that Palestine is a signatory to international conventions protecting freedom of expression and of opinion.

The ICHR called the summoning an author over a novel that he wrote unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian Culture Minister Ehab Bseiso, writing on his Facebook page, expressed reservations about the ban but did not call for it to be reversed. Bseiso demand that it be revoked. He promised that he would begin reading “Crime in Ramallah” immediately in order to study the issue.

It appears that one of the reasons for the order was the posting and sharing on Facebook of some excerpts from the book, which contained “indecent terms,” according to some reports.

The report on The New noted that the book contains explicit sexual content, including descriptions of masturbation by the main character.

According to Yusuf Al-Shayeb, a culture critic who strongly opposes the ban and published an op-ed on the Palestinian news site Al-Ayyam on the “storm of condemnations” of the order, the novel also contained blunt and insulting remarks about Yasser Arafat that he felt were extreme. None of the official statements mentioned political reasons for the ban. Barak claimed his order did not violate laws on freedom of expression and creativity, laws which in any case oblige writers to abide by rules of morality.