A public reading of the first-ever alphabet story book in the English language about Palestine has caused outrage among some American library patrons who claim that its contents are anti-Semitic. Now a literary event featuring the children’s book P is for Palestine and its author has been shelved until at least next month when the library’s board of trustees will hold a public meeting to consider rescheduling the event for the book written by Golbarg Bashi.
Bashi was due to read P is for Palestine during a children’s event at the Highland Park Public Library in New Jersey, but several residents complained. They allege that the 2017 self-published book is anti-Semitic and promotes violence. One local resident complained: “I is for Intifada — encouraging children to rise up any way they see fit to resist. Far from peaceful and far from appropriate.” She added that the prospect of the book’s author visiting her community to host the reading made her “feel unsafe”.
According to US cable network Fox News, the main focus of the objections arises from the content of the section “I is for Intifada”. According to the Iranian-American author, intifada is the Arabic word for “resistance” and has a peaceful connotation. She likened it to the recent “Woman’s March”. The word’s literal definition is “tremor”, “shuddering” or “shaking off”, although “uprising” is in popular usage.
Each letter of the alphabet is illustrated and the illustration for “I is for Intifada” is of a little girl being held by her father with their arms raised in the “V for victory” position; they are standing next to a barbed wire fence. While most of the complaints were over the use of the word intifada, several also complained at the M-insert which shows an image of Palestinian women and children flying kites. Critics said that “kite bombs” are known to be used to fly over the nominal border from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
An equally vocal lobby is expressing support for Bashi’s book, saying that it is aimed at dialogue and open-mindedness. Bashi is being defended by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which also supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
The author herself insists that her book is “about children who basically have no books written about them in English in this country.” She described the controversy around her book as an issue for the First Amendment concerning freedom of speech.
According to Rochelle Kipnis, people are not suggesting that the book should be banned. “We simply do not believe that the author’s attempted transformation of a word generally understood to mean the violent massacre of Jews as a morally acceptable concept for children should be presented at a public library,” explained the Somerset County Republican committeewoman and pro-Israel community advocate. “If the author truly wants ‘Intifada’ to take on a positive meaning, she should immediately denounce the murder of Jews during the First and Second Intifada.”
Maybe Ms Kipnis is not aware of what triggered the First Intifada or that both uprisings resulted in far many more deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians than Israelis. She should check the history section of her local library where she might discover that the First Intifada began on 9 December 1987 in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza when an Israeli lorry crashed into two vans carrying Palestinian workers, killing four of them. The fatal crash served as a catalyst for protests which swept across the occupied Palestinian territories.
No single person or organisation was responsible for the uprising; it was a popular response to Israel’s brutal military occupation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians engaged in civil disobedience, including strikes, demonstrations, refusals to pay taxes and boycotts of Israeli products. Israel’s response was swift and harsh. Palestinian schools were closed down, and mass arrests followed other closures and curfews. In 1990, the then Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin infamously ordered his soldiers to “break the bones” of the demonstrators; they did, and were caught in sickening television footage doing so. From 1987 to 1991, Israeli forces killed over 1,100 Palestinians, many of them children, and injured tens of thousands more.
UN Security Council Resolution 605 condemned Israel for the large number of Palestinian deaths, and pointed out that the Zionist state had violated the Geneva Conventions. Media coverage of the uprising – depicting stone-throwing Palestinian teenagers confronting armed soldiers – also generated new waves of international sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
The Second Intifada was far bloodier and was spawned out of the collapse of the peace process in 2000. Negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat broke down, and soon-to-be-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made an intentionally provocative visit to the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, accompanied by a considerable security presence. It sparked off a series of Palestinian demonstrations which were fired upon by Israeli soldiers. By the time that the uprising ended in 2005, around 1,000 Israelis and 3,200 Palestinians had lost their lives.
Perhaps Kipnis would, therefore, like to explain why she thinks the author “should immediately denounce the murder of Jews during the First and Second Intifada” while ignoring the much higher number of Palestinians who were killed. Does she believe that Palestinian lives don’t matter?
Since the book was first published in 2017, Bashi has received death threats and a small group of rabbis pressurised the independent New York chain Book Culture to issue an apology for advertising P is for Palestine. The owner of the chain, Chris Doeblin, admitted that the last time his store had faced such threats was after the Iranian fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses thirty years ago.
Two years on and Bashi’s book, which is enjoying its second print run, is still riling the pro-Israel lobby and it’s still difficult to understand why when its content is nothing more than a celebration of the diversity of Palestine as well as a reminder that it is the birthplace of Christianity. This is illustrated by “B is for Bethlehem”; “C is for Christmas, cosiest in Jesus Christ’s country, with the crunchiest candy”; “J is for Jesus” (Jerusalem is referred to by its Arabic name, Al-Quds); and “N is for Nazareth”.
When it comes to Zionist-led censorship it seems that even an innocent book designed to help young people understand the alphabet through the eyes of a Palestinian child crosses a red line. Nothing, it seems, is off limits for the lobby to attack.
Last July, the Israeli parliament passed the “Nation-State Law”, which basically made apartheid official doctrine by defining Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and marginalising Palestinians, their history and language. That law was the culmination of decades-long efforts. Now, what we are witnessing unfold at a New Jersey library suggests that there is a systematic campaign underway to strip every item, no matter how small, of its Palestinian character and culture.
There are no alphabet letters, words and illustrations in Golbarg Bashi’s book for Israel’s blatant disregard and hatred for any and all expressions of Palestine and its rich culture. Today, though, T definitely spells Trouble as Z for Zionists attempt to D for Distort H for History in order to promote their P for Pernicious ideology. Get a life people, it’s a children’s book.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.