A letter from the Hebrew Writers Association to the Prime Minister and minutes from a meeting held by the Central Security Committee offer a glimpse into Israel’s censorship of works by Palestinian authors and poets living in Israel. For years, Palestinian writers were required to submit their work for review and approval of the Military Censor.
Anyone interested in reading the work of Druze poet Samih al-Qasim in Hebrew can now purchase the recently published translated anthology entitled The Face of Freedom (Keshev LaShira Publishing, 2020, Translation by Sasson Somech, Idan Barir). In 1970, however, this was not the case. Al-Qasim was under various restrictions imposed pursuant to the Defense (Emergency) Regulations. He was also facing prosecution after failing to submit his poetry for censorship review before publication, as he was required to do.
In the decades following Israel’s establishment, Arabic language prose and poetry were subjected to strict scrutiny by the Israeli censorship, and security agencies kept a close watch on writings by Palestinian citizens of Israel – particularly those critical of Israel and its policies towards the Arab world, as well as works exhibiting national Arab and Palestinian motifs. Various state officials had a hand in decisions to ban written materials, including the Arab Affairs Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Attorney General, the Mail and Telegram Censor and, of course, the Chief Military Censor. For years, Palestinian writers active in Israel were required to submit their work be reviewed and approved by the Military Censor. Famed poet Emil Habibi, who served as a Member of Knesset for two decades, was among the artists whose work was censored.
In early 1970, after receiving a letter from the Hebrew Writers Association regarding this issue, Prime Minister Golda Meir wrote: “While studying the topic, I have learned that this is an intricate issue and that various authorities, such as the IDF, the Shin Bet, the police and the likes are in disagreement on the matter.” It appears that censorship of Palestinian writers in Israel was dropped in the late 1970s or early 1980s. In the Occupied Territories, however, it continued for many years thereafter.