Arab-Jewish love story a best-seller in Israel after school ban

‘Borderlife’ romance banned from schools as it encourages assimilation, says minister

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, posing with her Hebrew-language novel titled Gader Haya (known in English as Borderlife), expressed surprise at the controversy. “Politicians keep using fear to do their bidding, but why?” Photograph: Gil Cohen Magen/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, posing with her Hebrew-language novel titled Gader Haya (known in English as Borderlife), expressed surprise at the controversy. “Politicians keep using fear to do their bidding, but why?” Photograph: Gil Cohen Magen/AFP/Getty Images

 

The controversial novel Borderlife, about a romantic relationship between a Palestinian man and a Jewish woman, has shot to the top of Israel’s best-seller list after the education ministry banned it from high-school curriculums, saying it encouraged assimilation.

Israel’s largest bookstore chains sold all their copies of the book, written by Dorit Rabinyan, as the publisher announced a new print run to meet the soaring demand.

Borderlife tells the story of Liat, an Israeli translator, and Hilmi, a Palestinian artist, who meet in New York and fall in love. Their relationship lasts until they both return to the Middle East – Liat to Tel Aviv and Hilmi to Ramallah.

The ministry, headed by Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home, claimed the book “encourages assimilation”, explaining that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews pose a threat to the separation of identities”.

Mr Bennett said that while he wasn’t involved in the banning of the book, he fully supported the decision.

“This has nothing to do with censorship. Whoever wants to read the book can buy it,” he said. “Our schools should not promote values that go against the values of the state.” He attacked the book for “equating IDF soldiers with Hamas terrorists”, asking rhetorically: “Why should I force Israeli children to read about a Palestinian prisoner having an affair with a Jewish woman?”

Deeper attitude

Many authors and high school teachers joined opposition politicians in criticising the ban. Author Nir Baram called the decision “absolutely insane”, saying it reflected a deeper attitude on the part of the ministry when it comes to Arab-Jewish relations.

“Let’s put politics aside for a moment, and let’s ignore the fact that an idea has been banned; let’s ignore even the censorship aspects of the decision,” he said. “The bottom line is that the education ministry will not tolerate a situation in which Israeli teens read about an Arab and Jew falling in love.”

The book’s author expressed surprise over the controversy surrounding her book.

“I have had a hard time figuring out what they fear; do they really believe that by preventing the teaching of a novel grappling assimilation, the problem would somehow go away?” said Rabinyan. “Politicians keep using fear to do their bidding, but why?”

Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog said the decision represented a “backward worldview”. He said he bought several copies of the book and told students they should all read it.

Zehava Golan, head of the left-wing opposition Meretz, said the banning of the book was part of “an ongoing assault on anything that stands for pluralism and liberty”.

A forum of high-school principals expressed “shock”, warning in a statement that “fear might trump common sense”.