Outcry Forces Hamas to Rescind Book Ban

The Associated Press
Saturday, March 10, 2007; 3:09 PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Hamas-run Education Ministry on Saturday rescinded its decision to pull an anthology of Palestinian folk tales from school libraries and destroy copies, reportedly over mild sexual innuendo, following a widespread public outcry.

Education Minister Nasser Shaer, of Hamas, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he had not been informed of this week's decision to ban the book, "Speak Bird, Speak Again." Some 1,500 copies of the book were destroyed _ the most direct attempt by the militant Muslim group to impose its beliefs on Palestinian society.

"I have decided to correct the illegal measures that were taken regarding disposing the book," Shaer said.

The reversal came shortly before dozens of writers, academics and other intellectuals marched to protest the ministry's decision to pull the anthology.

The protesters, including women in Muslim headscarves, held up banners reading, "No to Ignorance, Yes to Enlightenment" as they headed to the Education Ministry in Ramallah.

"They can kill a book but they can't kill the stories in the hearts of women," said Fayha Abdul Hadi, a writer at the protest.

The 400-page anthology of folk tales narrated by Palestinian women was first published in English in 1989 by the University of California at Berkeley. It was put together by Sharif Kanaana, a novelist and anthropology professor at the West Bank's Bir Zeit University, and by Ibrahim Muhawi, a teacher of Arabic literature and the theory of translation.

At the time of the first publication in Arabic, in 2001, the Palestinian Culture Ministry requested 3,000 copies and had them distributed in schools, Kanaana said last week. Kanaana said that two of the 45 tales contained what some might consider vague sexual innuendo, referring to body parts in colloquial Arabic.

© 2007 The Associated Press