‘All the Rivers,’ the latest book by Dorit Rabinyan, generated international headlines when it was banned from Israel’s high school curriculum for depicting a Jewish-Arab romance. On the occasion of its publication in English, +972 Magazine speaks with the author about the ban and its fallout, and about traversing boundaries.
In December 2015, Israel’s Education Ministry banned Dorit Rabinyan’s third novel, “All the Rivers,” from the high school literature curriculum on the grounds that it encouraged assimilation via the tale of a Jewish-Arab romance. If that was the reason, the ministry need not have bothered: The autobiographically-inspired relationship between a young Jewish Israeli woman, who is similar to Rabinyan, and a charismatic Palestinian artist is doomed all on its own.
Almost from the moment the protagonist, Liat, meets the irrepressible Hilmi on a blustery late fall evening in New York, voices are swirling in her head. They alternate between “what are you doing?” and “this cannot happen,” and they never totally go away. The book is a chronicle of the passion and sorrow of the impossible relationship through the ages.
At the request of numerous teachers, Haaretz reported at the time, a professional pedagogic committee recommended including the book in the high school curriculum based on its literary and thematic merits. But Education Ministry officials rejected it and the far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the decision. I suspect Bennett had not yet read the book; if he had, he might have realized that his master stroke did not suppress Rabinyan’s view of the prospects for a relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, but rather echoed it. Ironically, but predictably, the attention made her book a bestseller.
It also turned Rabinyan into a target. In an interview with +972 Magazine prior to the release of the English translation (published by Random House Hardcover & eBook), she described how Bennett’s public statements were a dog whistle to followers of right-wing thugs.
“[On social media] they wished me all manner of curses, rape and death, all kinds of death…There were phone calls in the middle of the night from people cursing me.” She avoided her phone for days that passed in a fog. She was spat on. “Spitting on the streets is sort of a symbol. They said, ‘you’re not worth the soles of IDF boots’… they were devotees of their shepherd, sheep who got the sign from their leader.”...Read More