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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Arab writer shuns Hebrew translation
A Palestinian man engages Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Hebron
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians threatens the project
By Barbara Plett in Cairo

A plan to translate Arab authors into Hebrew has run into strong opposition after eight months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

An Egyptian writer is the latest to pull out of the programme, organised by an Israeli publishing company trying to foster mutual understanding.

Opponents refuse to deal with Israel while there is no full peace.

But others say Arabs are essentially promoting a policy of ignorance that only hurts them.


Author Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid liked the idea when he first heard it.

He thought the Andalus publishing house in Israel had selected progressive Arab works for translation.

I felt some writers had a desire to blow up the issue... Some writers accused people whose works have been translated of treason

Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid
According to him, its promotional material even said that proceeds from the series could be sent to the Palestinians.

But he has pulled out after the project came under attack from members of Egypt's intelligentsia.

Many have long opposed contacts with Israeli writers because they do not want to imply that full peace exists.

The past eight months of violence have only strengthened the conviction in Egypt that trying to encourage a dialogue with Israeli liberals is pointless.

Mr Abdel-Meguid said he belonged to the camp that believed translation was a step towards understanding, but he did not have the time or interest to defend himself against opponents.

Mutual understanding

But the prominent US-Palestinian academic Edward Said has spoken in favour of the project.

In a recent article published by an Egyptian weekly, he strongly criticised what he called a policy of ignorance that only harms the Arabs.

He said the Hebrew translation project would have helped Israelis understand the Arabs as a people, and that sophisticated knowledge of the other side was essential if Arabs wanted to develop a serious political and moral stand.

Mr Said mentioned as an example recent statements by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that were condemned by the West as anti-Semitic.

There is indeed evidence to suggest that many Arabs are not aware of the impact such language has in Europe because they have only a superficial understanding of the Holocaust.

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