Meron Benvenisti, Israeli Censorship of Arab Publications: A Survey (New York: Fund for Free Expression, 1984).

This study offers an overview, with examples, of the way censorship operates in Israel and in the Occupied Territories. It begins with a resumé of the origins of Israeli censorship laws, which date back to British legislation — the 1933 Press Ordinance and the 1945 Defence (Emergency) Regulations. It analyzes the ambiguities of Israeli political attitudes to free speech, even in the Hebrew media, and examines the role of the Editors’ Committee for the Hebrew press which, with a few exceptions, has maintained a voluntary consensus in the mainstream of the Israeli media. For foreign correspondents, and more especially for the Arabic press, it is the military censor who is in control.

Arabic-language newspapers and periodicals, most of which are published in annexed East Jerusalem (under Israeli law, not under the military occupation authorities), are obliged to submit all copy, including photographs, advertisements and even crossword puzzles to the censor before each issue is printed. Licenses have to be obtained (and are frequently refused or withdrawn) to distribute in the Occupied Territories.

Benvenisti characterizes the Palestinian press as a “mobilized” press; newspapers “perceive themselves as situated in the forefront of the national struggle against the occupation.” The report quotes extensively from a 1980 symposium on the Palestinian press in the occupied areas, giving the views of the former editors of al-Fajr and al-Sha‘b and other journalists. According to Akram Haniyya, “Our task is to exploit the margins allowed to us by the occupation and work within them.” A number of the participants point to the role of the press in connecting “inside” (the occupied areas and Israel) with “outside” (the diaspora). The following section examines the frequency of censorship and the types of articles cut or removed. In the Occupied Territories, where few books are published, imported works can be banned by the authorities under the sweeping terms of Military Orders 101 and 718. The report examines the revised master list of 1,002 Arabic titles banned by the censor in 1982, after revelations that the previous list included such titles as George Orwell’s 1984. At least 600 titles have since been added. The study notes: “It may be that only 3-4 percent of imported titles are censored but the titles censored represent 100 percent of all works which express, instill or foster Palestinian-Arab national feelings and national heritage.” The only area not covered in the books survey is the important one of textbooks, which are sometimes banned or have sections referring to Palestine deleted or altered.

Benvenisti concludes in an optimistic vein that the censor is “fighting a losing battle,” “particularly pathetic because of the proliferating technology of communication [including radio and TV] from the Arab states that penetrates the West Bank and because of the emergence of new and powerful intellectual centers in the West Bank itself.”

How to cite this article:

Sarah J Graham-Brown "Benvenisti, Israeli Censorship of Arab Publications," Middle East Report 136/137 (October-December 1985).

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