Adalah Petitions Supreme Court against Ban on the Import of Arabic Books Published in Syria or Lebanon

On 28 January 2009, Adalah submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel demanding that Kull Shay – the largest supplier of Arabic language books in Israel – be permitted to import books that were published in Syria and Lebanon from Egypt and Jordan. The petition was submitted by Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the General Director of Adalah. Adalah’s legal apprentice, Ms. Haneen Naamnih, assisted in the preparation of the petition.

Kull Shay has been importing books from Egypt for some 30 years and from Jordan for 15 years. Many of these books were published and printed in Syria and Lebanon. Throughout this time, Kull Shay has secured the consent of the government censor for all the imported books.

In August 2008, the owner of Kull Shay, Mr. Saleh Abbasi, received a letter from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (MITL) informing him that his license to import books published in an “enemy state” would not be renewed, even if the books were imported via another country, in accordance with the British mandatory-era Trade with the Enemy Ordinance of 1939.

In the petition, Adalah argued that some 80% of Arabic-language books sold in Israel, and most of the Arabic-language books that needed for college and university libraries, as well as the Israel National Library, are published in Syria and Lebanon. The petition emphasizes that these publishers have the exclusive right to publish books from a wide range of genres. For example, only Lebanese publishing houses publish Arabic translations of well-known children books such as Pinocchio, Harry Potter and by British publisher Lady Bird. In addition, these publishers almost exclusively publish Arabic translations of classical literature, including the works of Shakespeare and Molière, as well as modern world literature by authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho. They also publish professional Arabic dictionaries. Similarly, many works classical and modern Arabic literature are published in Lebanon and Syria, many of which are renowned worldwide, including the books of Jubran Khalil Jubran, Nizar Qabbani and Mahmoud Darwish.  In addition, within the Arab world it is only Syrian publishing houses that publish Arabic translations of Hebrew literature, including the works of famous Israeli writers Amos Oz, Yoram Kaniuk, and Eshkol Nevo. These publishers are also the sole source of Arabic language textbooks.

The petition included letters written by the heads of Israeli academic institutions that state the importance of books published in these countries for academia, research and general education. These include letters written by the general director of the Israel National Library, the director of Haifa University Library, the president of Oranim Academic College and the president of Beit-Berl College.

Adalah further argued in the petition that the ban on importing books from Syria and Lebanon infringes the right of Mr. Abbasi to freedom of occupation (employment), emphasizing the fact that he has been importing books for almost thirty years without the opposition of the authorities.

Moreover, the ban violates the rights of all Arabic speakers and readers, and students of Arabic and Middle East studies to freedom of information, culture, education and academic freedom. These rights are constitutional rights. The violation of these rights is a characteristic of anti-democratic regimes, the petition contended.

The Trade with the Enemy Ordinance of 1939, under which the ban was imposed, is a mandate-era ordinance that was promulgated during the First World War. The ordinance proscribes unauthorized trade that might constitute a security threat and places a total ban on all forms of trade relations with “enemy nationals”. The petitioners argued the blanket ban imposed by the ordinance lacks any substance given Israel’s tight import restrictions. Furthermore, it is necessary to make a specific inquiry in this case, which concerns imported materials of a unique nature that are exclusively produced in countries defined as “enemy states”.

HCJ 894/09, Kol Bo Books v. The Minister of Finance

Adalah's Petition (Hebrew)