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June 14, 2015 1:06 pm

Israel’s Knesset Celebrates ‘Arab Book Day’ as New Holiday

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avatar by Ben Niran / Tazpit News Agency

The Knesset. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The Knesset. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Last week, the Knesset introduced a new holiday into the Israeli calendar: the first-ever Arab Book Day was celebrated in a special ceremony at the Israeli parliament on Wednesday.

The driving force behind the initiative was Israeli Arab MK Issawi Frej (Meretz), who has initiated a series of projects to bolster the Israeli Arab literary scene – including the establishment of an Arab literature prize that will reward outstanding achievements in poetry and prose.

A central point of the ceremony was Frej’s presentation to the Knesset of a bill calling for the establishment of a digital database for Israeli Arab literature, to be funded by the Education and Culture Ministries.

“Why a digital database, you ask?” Frej asked his audience. “Because, in case you haven’t noticed, we entered the second millennium 15 years ago. For the Israeli-Arab society, digital texts are more accessible than libraries, which are not always within reasonable walking or driving distance.”

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The ultimate aim of the event was to underscore the role literature can play in spanning the divide between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

“Books should build bridges between cultures – not walls. In Israel, the walls are getting higher and higher. We shall dismantle them, brick by brick, book by book,” Frej said.

One way of achieving that aim, according to Frej, is by encouraging the translation of Hebrew literature in the Arab world and of Arabic literature in Hebrew.

“We will work to enable every Arab child to have the same books as his Jewish brothers,” Frej said. “In this way, bridges will be built over the gaps between cultures, opinions, and faiths. For books build bridges.”

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