For more than 30 years, anthropologist Sharif Kanaana has been
collecting and studying Palestinian folk tales so that people at
home and abroad would understand the story of his people.
This week, the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority (PA) added a new
chapter: a directive to pull Professor Kanaana's book from school
libraries and destroy it.
"I don't want to generalize about all of Hamas - I rather hope
it's a unique case, a mistake by an individual," says Kanaana, a
scholarly, bespectacled academic who was just heading into
semiretirement when he inadvertently became the poster child of the
Palestinian divide between liberals and ultra-conservatives.
"Unfortunately, it confirmed some of the worst expectations people
had for this government."
The decision underscores the struggle for ideological and
political hegemony, one that is making itself felt more strongly
than ever before.
While literature lovers and others on the more progressive side
of Palestinian society see the order to ban the book as an attack on
the cultural freedoms, the Islamist Hamas movement and its
supporters see the move as a democratically endorsed step toward
protecting students from "harmful" influences and "offensive"
language, in the words of one leading official here.
"The book was withdrawn because of the problems with offensive
language which contradicts our beliefs and morals," says Sheikh
Yazid Khader, who is the director-general of the PA's Ministry of
Hamas says it's guarding values
Religious conservatives say that they didn't like five stories
within the 400-page book of folklore, which includes academic
explanations and theory, because of references to body parts or
The decision to pull the book "Speak Bird, Speak Again," first
published in English in 1989 and later in Arabic in Lebanon, was
issued by the education ministry last month in a letter to teachers,
who were instructed to destroy it.
"Our society depends on Islamic values and has for hundreds of
years," continues Sheikh Khader. "Our most important objective is to
make curriculum adhere to our social values."
In his viewpoint, too many Western influences are seeping into
Palestinian society, and children must be better shielded from them.
"This new generation is unable to distinguish between what is
harmful and what is beneficial, so we have to protect them from
these harmful influences," he says. "The Israeli occupation is
interested in introducing us to Western values that work to destroy
our Arab and Muslim values."
The fresh wave of negative press for Hamas, domestically and
internationally, comes at a particularly uncomfortable time for the
organization, whose name is an acronym that stands for the Islamic
Hamas and Fatah, the mainstream and secular political faction of
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), are moving closer to
reaching an agreement that would pave the way for the creation of a
national unity government. …