Professor of sociology and anthropology at Bir Zeit University, Ashraf Kana'nah, has commented on the decision of the Palestinian ministry of education to burn copies of the book he collated with his colleague, Dr Ibrahim Mhawi. The book, collated from Palestinian oral narratives, is entitled "Speak bird, speak again". Dr Kana'nah described the ministry's decision as "cultural terrorism"; while the ministry claims that stories in the book contain "immoral expression".
Kana'nah told Ma'an's correspondent in Ramallah that "those who conducted such measures are not related to academia", since he found no more than three references to sexual activity in a 400 page book.
Dr Kana'nah expressed his disturbance over the burning of his book, saying that "every book one writes is continuity of his own ideology, as much as the son is the biological continuity of his father." He added that it was the ministry of culture who decided to distribute the book at the schools, and they also funded the printing of 3000 copies.
I found the book online in English, and while some may seem inappropriate for children, apparently these folktales were meant for children to listen to.
I looked a bit to see if there was anything particularly "Palestinian" about these stories, and could not find much except for some place names.
The folktales themselves are interesting if only because they reflect the traditional male/female roles in Arab society, although the women are somewhat empowered as they are the tellers of most of the tales. Even so, this empowerment is strictly in private.
Also interesting is some of the scatological material.
Here is one of the stories, complete with a section where a woman's brothers try unsuccessfully to kill her because of a perceived slight to family honor:
I didn't read all of the stories, and the most objectionable part I could find was where a wife was upset that her husband was castrated.
The Woman Who Fell into the Well
Once there were some men who had been out selling, you might say, charcoal and were on their way home. As they were traveling, one of them said, "God forsake you! By Allah, we're hungry!"
"O So-and-So!" they said. "Stop by and ask for something for us."
Stopping by a house to ask for something, he found a woman at home.
"I entreat you in Allah's name, sister," he said, "if you have a couple of loaves of bread, let me have them for these cameleers. We're on the road from faraway places, and we're hungry."
"Of course," she said, and reached for the bread, giving him what Allah put within her means to give—a loaf, maybe two.
And, by Allah, on his way out of the house, he stumbled over a dog tied to a tree. Startled, the man fell backwards, and behold! he ended up in a well that happened to be there. It was a dry well and held no water at all.
"There is no power and no strength except in Allah!" exclaimed the woman.
"O sister," the man cried out, "lower the rope and pull me out!"
Throwing him the rope, the woman started to pull him out but when he almost reached the mouth of the well her strength failed her. His weight grew too heavy for her, and she fell into the well with him.
"There is no power and no strength except in Allah!" exclaimed the man. "But don't worry, sister. By Allah's book, you're my sister!" And they sat together for a while.
Now, her brothers were seven, and with their plowman they were eight, and they were all out plowing the fields. In a while the plowman showed up.
"Hey, So-and-So!" he called out. "Hey, So-and-So!" But she did not answer.
After a while, she called out from the well, "Pull me out!"
When he had pulled her and the man out, she said, "Such and such is the story, and please protect my reputation. By Allah, this man is like my brother. Protect me, and don't tell my brothers. They'll kill me. And come harvest time, when my brothers pay your wages, I'll add two measures to your share. Just don't tell on me!"
"Fine," said the plowman.
A day went and a day came, and they harvested the grain and threshed it. He took his wages, and the sister gave him extra.
"What did you do this year," asked his wife, "that So-and-So's household gave you extra?"
"By Allah," replied the man, "he who protects another's reputation, Allah will protect his reputation in turn."
"Impossible!" she insisted. "You must tell me what happened, or else you'll worship one God and I another!"
"By Allah," he said, "there was a girl who had fallen into a well with a man, and I pulled her out."
Now the wife, when she sat together with the other women, used to say, "Did you know? So-and-So—my husband pulled her out of the well, and she had a man with her!"
This woman told that one, and so on, until her brothers got hold of the news.
"We must kill her," they said.
The girl, catching on to their intentions, ran away at night. Eventually she came to a tent, and lo! there was a young man in this tent, living together with his mother. They let her stay with them, and the mother would bring food in to her.
Now, the man was a bachelor, and his mother said, "Son, by Allah, this girl has filled my eye. She's very nice, and I'd like to approach her for you."
"Yes, mother," he said. "If you want me to marry her, speak with her."
"O So-and-So!" said the mother. "What do you think? My son—I have no one but him. What do you say to my marrying you to him?"
"I'll marry him," the girl replied.
She married him. After that, she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy whom she called Maktub. Then she became pregnant again and delivered, giving birth to a girl whom she called Kutbe. Again she became pregnant and delivered, giving birth to a boy whom she cared Mqaddar.
Meanwhile, her brothers were roaming the countryside looking for her. One day, coming by where she was, they said, "By Allah, it's getting late, and we'd like to take shelter with you for the night." (See how destiny works!) After they came in and sat down, their host prepared them the dinner which Allah placed within his means, and they ate. The father kept saying, "Come here, Maktub! Go over there, Kutbe!" The whole time it was like that, "Kutbe this, Maktub that, and Mqaddar this!"
As they were sitting after dinner, they said, "Let us tell of our adventures." Then they said, "The first tale's on the host."
"All right," he said. "I'd like to tell you about what happened to me in my time. Where are you folks from?"
"By Allah," they answered, "you might say we're from the hills around Hebron."
"By Allah," he said, "I had an adventure when I was a young man of twenty."
"Please proceed!" they said.
"By Allah," he began his tale, "we were salesmen, traveling in your part of the country. One day we were hungry. 'So-and-So!' said my companions, 'Stop off and beg a few loaves for us.' By Allah, I stopped by this girl—May Allah protect her reputation! 'For the sake of Allah, sister,' I begged, 'if you can spare us a couple of loaves of bread! We're camel drivers, and we're traveling.' By Allah, reaching for some loaves of bread, that noble woman handed them to me and said, 'Brother, make sure to sidestep the trunk of that tree. There's a dog tied to it, and it might charge you. Take care not to fall into the well.' And by Allah, folks, she hadn't even finished her words of warning, when the dog rushed at me. And he no sooner attacked than I was startled and fell into the well."
Now the plowman, who was traveling with them, said, "I must go out. I have to pee!"
"No!" her brothers responded. "Don't go out until the host finishes his tale."
"By Allah," continued their host, "when I fell into the well, a girl looked in and said, 'There is no power and no strength except in Allah. There's no one here who can pull you out.' Her brothers were seven and with the plowman they were eight, and they were all out in the fields. 'For the sake of Allah, sister,' I begged her, 'lower the rope and pull me up!' And, by Allah, that decent woman—May Allah protect her honor!—dangled a rope down and started to pull me up, but when I was almost to the mouth of the well my weight was too much for her and she fell into the well with me."
The plowman again said, "I want to go pee," but her brothers answered, "Sit!"
"By Allah," the host went on, "who should show up but the plowman? 'Here I am!' she said, after he had called to her. Lowering a rope, he pulled her out. 'Brother,' she pleaded with him, 'such and such is the story.' "
Now she herself was listening. Where? In the tent she sat, listening to her husband's tale.
"I have to go take a shit!" said the plowman.
"Sit!" the brothers said. "Wait till the host tells his tale!"
"By Allah, friends," continued the host, "the man pulled us out, and I came this way."
No sooner had he said that than she burst out with a ululation from behind the divider in the tent, and then came in to where they were sitting and said, "You're my brother, and you're my brother."
"You," exclaimed the brothers, "are here!"
"Here I am," she answered, "and I've called my children Maktub, Kutbe, and Mqaddar." (All those names are related to fate - EoZ)
The bird has flown, and a good night to all!