There are two major bookstore chains inside Israel: Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim. Haaretz recently looked at why neither has “even a single branch in an Arab [Palestinian] city or in the large population centers of the Arab [Palestinian] society in Israel.”
One big issue is that the import of Arabic books from Arab countries into Israel and occupied Palestine is subject to the approval of military censors. However, Arabic-book importer Saleh Abassi optimistically told Haaretz that the influence of the censors “has not been as great since the tenure of Shulamit Aloni.”
But buying Arabic books in most cities in Israel and occupied Palestine continues to be a challenge, and most Israeli-owned bookstores that offer Arabic books are very small.
About 20 percent of the population of Israel (not including occupied Palestine) is Palestinian. So why no book-store branches in Palestinian towns or neighborhoods? From Haaretz:
Asked about the subject, Steimatzky CEO Iris Barel offered the following comment: “I have asked Arab MKs several times to help locate Arab-language publishers, but regrettably there are hardly any. As a consequence, it’s not possible to open Steimatzky stores in locations with a clear-cut Arab majority and ensure that they will have the appropriate mix for that population. If enough publishers can be found, I will immediately open a branch in Arab locales, in addition to those that exist in places where there is a mixed [Jewish-Arab] population.”
A spokesman for competitor Tzomet Sfarim told the newspaper:
Tzomet Sfarim operates about 100 branches across Israel and sells the greatest possible variety of books in different languages. Because of a shortage of books that are translated into Arabic and the problems entailed in importing Arabic-language books into Israel, the number of Arabic-language books sold is relatively small. Lately, we have launched a pilot project of offering a selection of books in Arabic – those that are available from local publishers and distributors – in our new branch in Upper Nazareth. In the future, Tzomet Sfarim will examine the possibility of opening branches in the Arab community as well.
And the statement from the deputy chief military censor, Lt. Col. Ron Karnieli:
Military censorship carries out its tasks and missions according to the law. The military censor’s office examines publications, including the importation of books from Arab countries. As to the question of what influence this has on the market for books in Arabic in Israel, my subjective opinion is that it has no influence, but as the saying goes, a person shouldn’t blow his own horn.