September 17, 2018

Israel’s Resling Books plays “white savior” and publishes a collection of short stories by Arab women without permission


Israeli publisher Resling Books has quickly, and without notice, removed a collection of stories by Arab women writers from its catalog after it was revealed they never asked any of
the authors for permission to translate and publish their work.

Photo via Drew Coffman/Unsplash

In a moving and infuriating report for Hyperallergic, Hakim Bishara tries to find out why. What Resling offers up as reason sounds like another tone-deaf, backwards excuse that yet again keeps the marginalized on the margins.

Many of the authors whose work was published without their permission spoke with Bishara. Libyan writer Najwa Bin Shatwan categorizes the act as more “forced normalization” on the part of Israel. Bishara describes it as “ways organizations, business, and governments act as if there are normal cultural relations between Arab countries and Israel in disregard of its longstanding conflict with Palestinians.” The collection is titled Huriya, which translates into English as “Freedom,” also used unsolicited and unapproved artwork by an Arabic artist, Lebanese cartoonist Hasan Bleibel.

Bishara quotes another Arab writer, Salwa Banna from Palestine who spoke with the Arabic online magazine Fusha about the collection: “Those who rob a land won’t find it hard to rob a culture” and describes the book as an attempt to coax Arab writers into a “normalization trap.”

Resling Books was confronted upon the release of the publication by activist Roni Felsen, who attended an event in honor of the publication and the publisher’s latest imprint, VASHTI, which proposes to highlight experimental prose. It was there that Felsen first heard from Resling’s editor-in-chief, Idan Zivoni admit they never seeked permission from any of the authors.

She spoke with Zivoni days after and quickly posted the editor’s response to her Facebook. The response is copied here in full:

This entire story of translation is an issue by itself especially when it’s from Arabic. It’s a different kind of category. When you translate from English, you deal with norms, you have a subject and you ask for rights. We as a publisher do it all the time, and we never publish foreign works without permission. It’s different in the Arab countries, where there are no publishers. Some of these countries have no ties with us [Israel], so there’s no one to contact. In that respect, a symmetry exists. Books by Resling were translated and published there without permission as well…Here we’re not even talking about books, but short stories. In many cases, the writers wouldn’t even be practically allowed give us their permission. These women are putting a call out to the world. This is literature written in body and blood, for some of them it’s a [sic] SOS signal which reaches us thanks to technology….so that we can use it to save lives. Who will hear the cries of these women? In the past, these women could cry out in their kitchen…or in the field, heard only by god maybe? Now somebody is taking these cries, translates them and voices [sic] them here in Israel… It’s important to us that the voices of these women are heard…We take it as their salvation.

The levels of assumption, while not surprising, are absurd. What’s most absurd is Zivoni’s continue failure to right whatever apparent wrongs they believe keep Arab women writers out of the spotlight. If you think that by disregarding the financial aspect of publishing–since you’re not getting paid, payment is off the table–is somehow a good enough excuse then you’re perpetuating whatever ideals you place on these writers.

Take what, Yehouda Shenhav, a professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University, says, interviewed by for the piece: “This is a colonial and misogynistic response, typical of an Israeli left that is disconnected from the Arab world. Publishing works of literature without permission does not build bridges with the Arabs but rather builds walls.”

But if you think retribution will be an easy matter, think again. Though many authors will be filing lawsuits against Resling Books for publishing this illegal collection of short stories, none of the lawsuits will probably get very far. Precisely because Israel has no relationship with most Arab States, will it prove difficult to have Resling answer for its action. A lawsuit filed within Israel is the closest chance the writers have to holding the publisher accountable.

Take note, Resling. Ask permission and pay writers. It’s the easiest step you can  take to end colonization.




Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.