Education: American Librarians Revoke Condemnation of Israeli Censorship

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Education: American Librarians Revoke Condemnation of Israeli Censorship

Israel's censorship policies are well known, but this year the largest librarian's association in the world decided to ignore the evidence in its own files. A year earlier, in July 1992, the 56,000-member American Library Association had passed a resolution calling upon "the government of Israel to end all censorship and human rights violations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and in Israel itself."

The resolution stated that Israel's annual $4.5 billion in American aid helps offset costs of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories and makes the U.S. a party to Israel's human rights violations and censorship practices. This June, however, when confronted by organized opposition from pro-Israel members, the association revoked its own resolution.

In the past, the American Library Association also has criticized the Soviet Union, South Africa, the People's Republic of China, and Iran for their human rights and censorship policies. The revoking of such a resolution is unprecedented.

Israeli censorship practices are well documented. The 1993 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, the Parisbased Reporters sans Frontières and the London-based Article 19 Center on Censorship describe routine government expurgation of articles and editorials from the press in Israel; the harassment, torture, and deportation of Palestinian journalists; and the exclusion of journalists from arbitrarily defined and constantly shifting "military areas" in the occupied territories.(1)

Another form of Israeli censorship, book banning, is documented by Palestinian-American writer Muhammad Hallaj in an article entitled "Palestine: The Suppression of An Idea."(2) Dr. Hallaj reports that even after books approved by United Nations officials for use in UNESCO/UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees are purged of offensive references to Israel, Israeli censors will not allow UNESCO teachers to use them. UNESCO reported that in the 1978-79 academic year, Israeli censors confiscated eight textbooks intended for use in West Bank primary schools and an additional four texts intended for secondary schools. Nine books out of 27 approved by the United Nations for use in Gaza primary schools were banned by Israeli censors.

Reporting on the situation in the 1980s, a UNESCO team member wrote. "The censors manage to reject works of fundamental importance to Arab cultural heritage. One sentence is sometimes enough to condemn out of hand a book of obvious importance." In addition to banning the works of Arab poets of the early 20th century, Israeli censors banned Alan Moorehead's The White Nile and The Blue Nile, biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Alexander the Great, and the plays of Sophocles.

"Israeli occupation authorities object to the very concept of Palestine."

Palestinian-American Noha Ismail, a librarian in Hennepin County, Minnesota, wrote in a 1991 article entitled "Israeli Censorship in the Occupied Territories" that Palestinian children "have literally been subjected to a mental and intellectual siege for over 23 years."(3) The Israeli policy, however, is not just to deny Palestinians access to great works of literature, according to Professor Hallaj. "What the Israeli occupation authorities object to, in fact, is the very concept of Palestine and, therefore, any form of expression of such a concept is forbidden." Hallaj reports an Israeli military governor told a Palestinian painter, "If you paint a flower with colors of white, green, black or red [Palestinian flag colors] on the petals, we'll confiscate it."

The ALA was alerted to Israeli censorship practices 10 years ago when David Williams of the Chicago Public Library wrote to the association in December 1983 enclosing documentation. Correctly predicting a protracted debate over the issue, he wrote, "I fear that ALA will not be willing to confront this issue, given the hysteria that arises in the United States whenever anyone sharply criticizes our ally and 'only democracy in the Middle East' . …