Adalah Submits Pre-Petition to Israeli Ministries: Banning Import of Arabic Books Violates Academic Freedom and the Rights to Information, Culture and Education

On 4 December 2008, Adalah filed a pre-petition to the legal department of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (MITL) demanding that they renew the license granted to the “Kull Shay” library in Nazareth to continue to allow it to import Arabic language books published in Syria and Lebanon via Jordan and Egypt. 

In August 2008, the owner of the library, Mr. Saleh Abbasi, received a letter from the MITL informing him that his license to import books published in an “enemy state” would not be renewed, even via another country, in accordance with the British mandatory-era Trade with the Enemy Ordinance of 1939. After great effort, Mr. Abbasi succeeded to get his license extended until 31 December 2008, but was told that it would not be renewed. Mr. Abbasi has been importing books from these countries since 1979. Throughout the years, he has secured the consent of the government censor for all the imported books.

In the pre-petition, Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the General Director of Adalah, argued that banning the import of books from Syria and Lebanon constitutes a violation of the rights to information, culture and education and academic freedom of all those who speak and read the Arabic language and who wish to learn it. Further, these rights are constitutional rights, and violating them is a characteristic of anti-democratic regimes. Attorney Jabareen further contended that preventing Mr. Abbasi from importing books infringes his rights to freedom of occupation (employment), in particular given that he has been importing books for almost thirty years unopposed by the authorities.

As Adalah stressed in the pre-petition, in the Arab world, Syria and Lebanon are host to many publishing houses where Arabic books and books translated into Arabic from foreign languages, including Hebrew, are published; books imported from these countries account for 80% of the Arabic books sold in Israel.

Adalah further stated that Lebanon is the most important source of children’s books translated from English into Arabic, such as the famous children’s books in the “Harry Potter” series and Ladybird Books. Moreover, publishing houses in Lebanon are the only publishers who translate classical literature in Arabic and some modern literature by authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho.

Similarly, publishers in Syria are among the most important in the field of professional books in Arabic, and such books are basic references in the Arabic language departments in Israeli universities. In addition, only these publishing houses publish literature translated from Hebrew to Arabic. Attorney Jabareen stated that in case the ministries fail to respond to the request, Adalah will turn to the Supreme Court.

The letter (Hebrew)