“In the three public libraries in Nazareth Illit,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) writes, “there are a diverse range of literature including fiction, poetry and scientific literature. Apart from books in Hebrew, there are also an impressive collection of books in Russian, English, Spanish and French”:
The ACRI news release doesn’t say how many native Spanish or French speakers make up the population of Upper Nazareth, although they do note that nineteen percent of the population is Arab (Palestinian). Yet “there is not a single book in Arabic in any of the city’s public libraries.”
Also, according to ACRI, “activities offered in the libraries — story time, public lectures and homework assistance — are all offered in Hebrew alone. The Arab residents of the city, and the 2,000 Arab children, are not offered any enrichment activities at these public sites.”
These are small privations compared to those suffered by residents of Gaza or Hebron. But attacking on one front doesn’t mean giving up on another, and access to books in one’s own national language is a not-unimportant fight for being able to continue a literary, political, and cultural conversation across the many walls and borders.
According to the news release:
Since 2012, ACRI has engaged in regular correspondence with municipal officials and the Ministry of Culture on this matter. In response to ACRI’s enquiries, the municipality claimed that is will set up a separate Arabic library at the community center in the city’s Hakeramim neighborhood. It should be noted that the so-called “library” in this neighborhood is actually one cabinet in the community center with a handful of books.
If that’s a library, then I’ve got about a half-dozen inside my rental, ahlan w sahlan.
One of the petitioners, Hani Salum, told Haaretz: “Arabic is one of the official languages of the country and as taxpaying residents of the city, it is our right, as adults and children, to funding and resources that enable access to books in our language in every field, as well as leisure and cultural activities in Arabic – just like the other residents for whom Hebrew or Russian is their native language.”
On the official government response, in Haaretz: “the petition in question has not yet been received at the Culture Ministry and its response on the subject will be provided to the court.”