The Maktoob book series casts a spotlight on the vitality of Arabic literature by translating selected poetry and prose into Hebrew. This new and unique project, the only one of its kind in Israel today, is based on the translation of works from Arabic literature and culture and making them accessible to the Israeli reader. The project is the initiative of Jewish and Palestinian translators and researchers of the Arabic language, and the product of the Translators’ Forum that was established at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in 2014.
The project seeks to cast a spotlight on life in this region from a human point of view, as well as delineating a different social-political reality, by overcoming the language barrier and the weakening and disappearing of relations between Jews and Arabs in the region. This is our response to the grim Israeli reality in which less than 2% of the Jews in Israel know enough Arabic to read Arabic literature. This is a particularly unfortunate situation considering that Arabic is the mother tongue of about one fifth of Israel’s citizens (the Palestinian citizens), and the heritage language of a large portion of its Jewish citizens. Furthermore, Israel is situated in the heart of the Middle East, whose lingua franca is Arabic – the language of the culture and society of a living region with 350 million people.
The Translators’ Forum
The Translators’ Forum brings together more than 80 of the country’s leading translators and researchers of translation, including renowned researchers from academe, veteran translators of Arabic literature, and young translators of Arabic prose and poetry, Jewish and Arab men and women, who view their craft as artistic creation through words, as well as a cultural and political action in the world. The Translators’ Forum is the home port where the Maktoob book series docks, and which explores the questions of what can and cannot be translated and the difference between them; it exposes the possibilities of motion between cultures and languages, with all the abundance of each separately and combined; and develops a sustainable model for a delicate, long-lasting cooperation between Jews and Arabs, whose purpose is reconciliation between Hebrew and Arabic.
The working model for each book is based on the principles of bilingualism and binationalism. In addition to the translator, each book has an Arabic translation editor and a Hebrew translation editor. Besides improving the quality of the translation, this process facilitates the movement and crossing between the languages. The Arabic translation editor, for example, takes part in editing the Hebrew text, among other reasons, in order to avoid creating a barrier wherein only Jews work in Hebrew and Arabs in Arabic.
We believe that facilitating the translation of works from Arabic culture and literature into the Hebrew language might build even the smallest bridge over the gulf that has opened and continues to widen between Israel and its neighbors in the Arab world, and over the hatred and alienation that fill it. We believe that in spite of the difficulties it is vitally important to promote such translation and provide space for hearing the human, living, angry and loving Arab voice – in Hebrew. The translated works will be published after a series of professional discussions and meticulous work by members of the Translators’ Forum, and after securing copyrights according to the requirements of the law.
The translation index from Arabic into Hebrew
The Translators’ Forum created, for the purposes of research and study, the first index of translations from Arabic literature of its kind. The purpose of the project is to gather and present all of the texts – novels, short stories and poems – that have been translated from Arabic into Hebrew from the end of the 19th century to the present. The index presents the texts that were translated, their genres, authors and translators, place of publication and date of publication. The index is for interpreters, researchers and laypeople, and offers as full a picture as possible of the translations from Arabic into Hebrew over the years. The index shows how modern Hebrew culture absorbed from its inception texts from the neighboring Arab culture, with whose language, culture and the people it reflected only a few Jews familiarized themselves. The index is available for use since June 2018 at Maktoob website in Hebrew.
Yehouda Shenhav Shaharabani; Yoni Mendel; Eyad Barghuthy; Hannah Amit Kochavi; Huda Abu Mokh; Bruria Horowitz; Rawiya Burbara; Ibtisam Mara’ana; Nabih Basheer; Yonit Naaman; Kifah Abdul Halim ; Hanan Saadi.
The partners of the Translators’ forum
The Euro-Mediterranean Institute for Inter-Civilization Dialog (EMID) is a laboratory for researchers, thinkers, artists and social activists working to bring together the peoples of the Mediterranean Basin. The Institute offers scholarships to candidates in the Euro-Mediterranean area who wish to work on a subject and develop it, and mediates between organizations of education and social activism and philanthropic bodies interested in laying the groundwork for a fertile discourse between civilizations and peoples.
- Walking on Winds: A trilogy by Palestinian author Salman Natour published in 2016. The three works that are brought together here in a novel lead the reader through unfamiliar—sometimes hidden—paths of the country, the homeland, and memory. The three parts lay before us a map we never knew: spaces that coil within each other as if by magic, because of the illusions of overt and covert time. The path from Daliyat el-Carmel to Paris passes through al-Hiriya, and the path between Nazareth and Nablus passes through London and Rome. This is the journey to what is Jewish, what is Arab, and what is between them. Al-Quds and Jerusalem, Beisan and Beit She’an, Haifa and Heifa. The stories that arise, one climbing on the back of the other—with restraint, irony, and humor, but also with pain—together form an exceptional cultural treasure for those in the country and those who dream about it.
- Entanglements of Secrets: A novel by Lebanese author Elias Khoury published in 2017. “Did the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marques know when he wrote Chronicle of a Death Foretold that he was revealing the letter’s secret…?” Elias Khoury poses this question in Entanglements of Secrets, an elusive novel, some of whose characters also appear in the novel by Marquez. Who came first, and is it important? Such questions run through Khouri’s roman à clef, which sheds a unique and original light on the circumstances underlying the outbreak of the civil war in 1975. As is his wont, Khouri descends to the sewers and brothels of Beirut to tell the story through the eyes of marginal figures in this surprising city.
- I Own Nothing Save My Dreams: An Anthology of Ezidi Poetry in the Wake of a Genocide, 2014–2016.This anthology includes poems written in the wake of the catastrophe that befell the Ezidi community in Iraq in August 2014, when its members were uprooted following the massacre and the brutal war raging in their region. The anthology has a bilingual format: The poems appear in the original Arabic side by side with their translation into Hebrew. For most of the poems, this is their first appearance in both languages. The poems were collected and translated by Idan Barir, a researcher of the Ezidi community.
- The Children Laugh, a children’s book by Syrian author Zakaria Tamer published at the end of 2017. It is a short story about a tyrannical king and children who disobey him. It is a sophisticated and moving universal allegory about the power of children, about freedom and oppression, and about nature and humanity’s place in it. This is the first Syrian children’s story to be published in a Hebrew-Arabic bilingual edition.
- Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam: A novel by Lebanese author Elias Khoury published in 2018. Adam, the narrator, is a Palestinian citizen of Israel in his fifties who immigrated to New York after giving up the vision of an Israeli state and is torn between Arabic, the mother tongue into which he was born, and Hebrew, which he chose as his father tongue. His life, which winds between crossed linguistic and artistic identities, led him along a bumpy path until his unexpected death. Adam leaves behind fragmented pieces, patchworks of truth and fiction, words and reflections of words, stories and musings, poetry written as prose, prose as poetry—a variety of genres and means of transmitting them that add up to a multilevel novel that bamboozles its readers. What, after all, is the thread that unites the plot? One could say— the Holocaust and the Nakba, the split identity of the Palestinians in Israel, the ghetto in Lod, silence and testimony, history and historiography. But before all of these lies the language that burrows inside itself, exposing its clods of earth and revealing its wounds in the journey toward memory.