I started researching censorship of Palestinian children’s books out of concern that my forthcoming young adult novel, Ida in the Middle, could be attacked or banned because the protagonist is a Palestinian-American. Ida is an 8th grader who faces ridicule and bullying at school and finds her strength by connecting with the struggle for self-determination happening in Palestine.
Ida’s experiences in her Massachusetts school are loosely based on my youngest daughter’s junior year about which she says, “I didn’t feel like they kicked me out because they had never included me in the first place.” I later spoke with many Palestinian kids with shocking stories of racism, exclusion and invisibility in US schools all of whom thought they were the only one – because no one talks about anti-Palestinian racism.
Palestinians aren’t on the radar of most advocates for marginalized books
What I’m finding in my research about censorship of Palestinians is concerning. Although advocates of intellectual freedom, freedom to teach and the right to learn stand up (appropriately so!) for books about Black, brown and queer communities, the intense, multilayered censorship of Palestinians goes virtually unchallenged – and, in fact, unnoticed. Simply put, Palestinians and their literature are invisible to organizations like the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Council of Teachers of English, among others. A good example of this is PEN America’s oft-cited report, America’s Censored Classrooms, which doesn’t even mention Palestinians, although there is a barrage of legislation targeting them, and overwhelming documentation of censorship of Palestinians.
For example, earlier this month, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) released a detailed, 97-page study of harassment, intimidation and repression against Palestinians in education that includes interference in hiring, classroom surveillance, restrictions on campus groups, demands for the censure or dismissal of pro-Palestinian faculty and students, and obstruction of pro-Palestinian events. They found that the constant and increasing harassment creates a “chilly” environment which threatens academic freedom, muzzles scholarly production, obstructs academic careers, encourages mendacious and malicious discourse, and stifles legitimate protest. More than that, they paint a picture of life for many Palestinian teachers and students that is painful and unfair.