A book disqualified from Israeli high school curricula for its love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian has been in massive demand since news of the text’s rejection by the Education Ministry broke Wednesday.
The Education Ministry said Thursday that Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (translated as “Borderlife” in English) had been rejected for inclusion in its reading list, despite requests by teachers, after deeming the content unfit for high school students.
“Gader Haya,” published in 2014, tells the story of an Israeli translator and a Palestinian artist who fall in love in New York but later part ways, as she returns to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and he to Ramallah in the West Bank. It was among the winners of the Bernstein Prize for young writers, an annual Israeli award for Hebrew literature.
“Officials discussed the matter of including the book in the curriculum,” the ministry said in a statement. “After it seriously examined all the considerations, and weighed the advantages and drawbacks, they decided not to include the book in the curriculum.”
But sales of the book jumped dramatically in the wake of the ministry decision, Channel 2 television reported Thursday.
“So far we have sold 50 times more copies than we sold yesterday, and by the end of the day it may be as high as 100,” said the Tzomet Sfarim (Book Junction) chain. “The numbers are growing every hour, and by the end of the day there will probably be no copies left — as has happened in our branch at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, for example. We have already asked the publisher for more.”
The book’s publishing house, Am Oved, said the demand was so great, it will now print a new run.
“So far, masses of copies have been sold, and shops are running out of stock, we are making sure to provide additional copies,” said the publisher. “In light of the demand for the book, we will be printing a new edition, which will take several days to produce. At the moment there is sufficient stock in our warehouse to meet the stores’ demands.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Channel 2 on Thursday that he was not directly involved in the ministry decision, but he supports it fully.
Reading out portions of the book on-air, Bennett said the book portrays Israeli soldiers as “sadists” and “war criminals” and likens them to Hamas terrorists.
Channel 2 reported Thursday that the “Free Israel” organization has announced a mass purchase of the book, which it will distribute to the libraries of educational institutions across the country.
The money for the mass purchase was raised via a crowd funding campaign, in an appeal that brought in close to NIS 4,000 in its first hours. The organization plans to continue its fundraiser for the coming nine days.
“Let’s spread the light and overcome the dark,” the organization wrote on the fundraising page. “We invite you to buy the new book by Dorit Rabinyan and bring it into your home. You can also buy books to be distributed free in educational institutions.”
An unnamed ministry spokeswoman was quoted by the Haaretz daily Wednesday as saying the book was rejected because it could undermine the “separate identities” of Jews and Arabs.
“Intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews are viewed by many in society as a threat to separate identities,” she reportedly said.
A battery of Israeli politicians and writers on Thursday lambasted the decision to exclude the book.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the decision represented a “backward worldview.” He said he bought “several copies of the book” and told students at a pre-army academy he was visiting Thursday that they should all read it.
“I asked them, ‘Are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories? Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that their education minister is afraid of books and stories?’” he said. “This is a backward worldview that does not believe the public can make decisions for themselves.”
The left-wing Meretz party called for a demonstration outside the Education Ministry over the disqualification of the novel.
Author Rabinyan pointed to an upside of the ruling: “It seems like someone in the Education Ministry still believes in the power of literature to generate change in the malleable souls of youths, and for some reason, that sounds optimistic to me.”
Still, she asked in a Channel 2 interview, “When did we start banning books?”
The veteran Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua, whose classic novel “The Lover” also depicts a relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, said the move not only targeted Rabinyan’s novel but threatened all literature.
“He who refuses to include it in the adult educational plan of literature students doesn’t only show that he has no understanding of what true literature is, but also disqualifies dozens of books, stories, plays and movies in one stroke that try, each in its own way, to realistically address the complicated relationships between us and the minority that lives among us and under our occupation,” Yehoshua told Haaretz.
“In any case, I hope that the silver lining will be sweet and because of this dark disqualification, Rabinyan’s book will get additional attention and draw in a wider audience of readers,” he added.
— Tal Schneider (@talschneider) December 31, 2015
AFP contributed to this report.