Furor as writers’ words taken 'without their consent'

After protest, publisher pulls unlicensed Hebrew translation of Arab writers

Israel’s Resling Publishing under fire for publishing, ‘Huriya,’ a translated collection of Arab women authors, without their consent

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The Facebook invitation from Resling Publishing for their April 24 soft launch of Huriya in Tel Aviv
The Facebook invitation from Resling Publishing for their April 24 soft launch of Huriya in Tel Aviv

An unauthorized Hebrew translation of a collection of writings from Arab women has been pulled off the shelves by the Israeli publisher after the authors said they did not give permission for the book, calling it an act of theft.

Resling Publishing told The Times of Israel it was investigating the matter.

The book is titled “Huriya,” translated as the Arabic word for freedom, and is a collection of stories and essays by 45 women writers from around the Arabic-speaking world in the wake of the Arab Spring and the female battle for freedom.

“We are currently undertaking a thorough and comprehensive examination in order to get to the root of the matter, and with that clarification will update our stance on the matter. We have removed the book from stores,” Resling said in a statement.

The company has described itself as a publishing company that “handles the research of Arabic literature and works to advance the multicultural conversation.”

In a piece published last week in Hyperallergic, a Brooklyn-based online forum about arts and culture, the Resling publication of the collection was variously described by some of the book’s authors as a brazen act of literary theft, the forced normalization of cultural relations between Israel and Arabic-speaking people, and a shameless act.

Khulud Khamis, a writer from Haifa, initially exposed the publishing company’s alleged misbehavior. She had been invited by Resling to participate in the book’s launch event planned for October. She is not one of the writers featured in this particular collection.

Khamis told another online magazine, “Fusha,” that she noticed the large number of writers from the Arab world featured in the collection, and suspected they were not asked for permission for the translation and publication of their works.

She then contacted some of the writers and her suspicions were confirmed, reported “Hyperallergic.” Khamis then posted the news on social media, which brought about the statements of the other writers.

the Lebanese cartoonist Hasan Bleibel has just contacted me, saying that the cover image of the "Freedom" book,…

Posted by ‎Khulud Khamis خلود خميس‎ on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Khamis declined a request to comment on the matter, referring The Times of Israel to the Hyperallergic article. None of the other writers responded to requests for interviews.

According to the Hyperallergic article, Resling chief editor Idan Zivoni told local activist Roni Felsen that handling translations of Arabic language books was a complicated matter because there are no publishers in Arab countries, or, if there are, they generally don’t have ties with Israel, leaving no one to contact about translations and foreign rights.

He made the comments at a soft launch of the collection on May 9 at a Tel Aviv book store.

The Resling editor reportedly said that he saw the publication of the collection as a mission to enable the cries of Arab women to be heard.

Khulud Khamis, the Haifa author who blew the whistle on Resling Publishing (Courtesy Khulud Khamis website)

Khamis told Hyperallergic that Zivoni’s reported response about hearing the cries of Arab women was offensive and patronizing.

“These writers are not screaming in their kitchens or in the fields, and they are definitely not waiting for the white male savior to ‘save’ them,” Khamis was quoted as saying in ‘Hyperallergic.’ “These are all strong women — activists, human rights defenders, many of whom hold advanced degrees in various fields. Their creative works have been recognized both nationally and internationally. Taking the writers’ words and creations, translating and publishing them into Hebrew — without their knowledge or consent — is the very opposite of ‘saving’ them. They [Resling] have robbed these women of their agency, silenced them, and disregarded their right to make a choice regarding their works.”

Efrat Lev, the foreign rights editor at The Deborah Harris Agency (Courtesy Debbi Cooper)

Efrat Lev, foreign rights director at The Deborah Harris Agency, a Jerusalem-based literary agency representing Israeli, Palestinian and international authors, said that the fact that the writings are by women, many living in third world countries, may have contributed to the notion that their rights of intellectual property could be more easily disregarded and breached.

“In the many years I’ve been selling translation rights to Israeli publishers (translations from foreign languages into Hebrew), I’ve come across authors who refused to have their books published in Israel, for political reasons: mainly (but not only!) Arabs and Iranians living in diaspora/exile, some for fear for their families left behind, ” wrote Lev in an email to The Times of Israel.

“Whatever the reason, Israeli publishers have respected this and have not gone ahead to publish books contrary to their authors’ wishes,” wrote Lev. “So, the case of Resling and this book is unusual in our book market, and frankly, quite inexcusable. I hope that their lack of professional behavior (to say the least) would not taint our industry as a whole.”

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