Israeli Hate Literature for Children
written by Tamar Meroz
first published in Hebrew in Ha'aretz Weekly Supplement, pp. 8, 9 ,27.
September 20, 1974 translated and republished in English in
The Non-Jew in the Jewish State: A Collection of Documents
edited and prepared by Israel Shahak
pages 81-90 1975 with the original title of
The Adventures of Oz Yaus, Tzuptzik and Danidin
The Adventures of Oz Yaoz, Tzuptzik and Danidin
SCORES OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS PUBLISHED IN ISRAEL encourage hatred and contempt for the Arabs. The principle is identical in all these endless serials: the Israeli hereos defeat the stupid Arabs. There is no control over these books, which are swallowed indiscriminately. Who are the authors of these books and what motivates them?
One of the most shocking phenomena in the field of children's literature in this country are the books published every now and then, and which are eagerly grabbed by children, whose themes are always how the mighty child or children defeat the funny and thickheaded Arabs who seek to kill us for their personal pleasure.
Once we were alarmed when we discovered anti-Israeli propaganda, accompanied by racist caricatures, which was included in textbooks used by refugee children in Gaza. And now it is clear, although only few parents know about it, that we, the Israelis, are employing much worse material of racist hatred which is accompanied by caricatures no less racist. Parents buy those books for their children, often without knowing their content; or the children get them in school or municipal libraries. And what a wonder: those are almost the only books which are never left on the shelf. At the moment they are returned to the library, a queue of children is waiting for every book.
Recently, some parents have started to discover the content of these books. A mother of an eight year old girl says: "I was astounded to find out what children read, and the worst of it is that I have no way of preventing it. They get those books at the library, and if I forbid them to read them, they will read them secretly. I see what they read, but I am helpless. Why is the distribution of these books not prohibited?"
A father says: "It is really astounding to see to what extent these books hold the children spellbound. In these books there are sadistic horror descriptions, detailed descriptions of cruel treatment and offensive caricatures of the Arabs who are described as wretched cowards. But I can not succeed in preventing the children from reading them. They are totally hypnotized. Why is there a standard for clothes, for articles, for food and for everything else and no control over children's books? Why can anyone earn money by producing this poison, and even municipal libraries buy it?"
A librarian at a large municipal library says: "They are a disaster, these books; and however much as we recommend classical literature the children want these books. Parents are glad to see their child sitting enthralled by a book and it does not cross their mind what he is actually reading. We are not able to control what every child reads, and on the part of the Ministry of Education and Culture there is no control."
As far as children's books are concerned, anarchy reigns. Everyone can publish whatever he wants. Bad translations, mis-educational books; Children 's books, apparently, are the only product over which there is no control.
But the books which are published in this country are much worse than bad translations and there are many tens of books which deal with one topic: the Arabs who murder Jews out of pleasure, and the pure Jewish boy who defeats "the coward swine."
Such books distributed in thousands and at times in tens of thousands of copies, are the product of a simple process: every child likes thrillers and adventure books in which the good guy wins. This is important and educational, a source of identification and an outlet for fears, as is well known.
Once, children used to read the classical adventure books, from Karl May to Henryk Sienkiewicz in which heroes fought fights full of tension, which ended with the triumph of good over evil. At the beginning of the fifties, a change occurred when an angry young writer discovered the magic formula. This was Yigal Mosenson, and the magic word was: "Hasamba." "An absolutely secret band" is a band of Israeli children who defeat the enemy, having endless adventures, from the expulsion of the British to electric caves. Then, these books were considered bad literature, whereas today they are seen almost as classical in comparison with the wave of children's literature which came afterwards.
All who were interested, started to publish books, written according to the inexhaustible magic formula: a band of brave Israeli children who defeat the stupid Arabs. Arnona Gadot writes about "Tchuptchik Girls" and about "Four Friends and the Gish Etzion Operation;" Rafael Sahar writes about the children who "Break through the pyramids;" H. Orgil writes about the "Band of Friends After the Terrorists;" Haim Eliav writes about "The Children of the Old City Fight the Infiltrators." One book was published by "Haim Gibory" ("Gibor" means "hero.") about a courageous band named "Havuoz" ("Havu-Oz" means "give strength") who obviously easily defeats all the stupid Arabs. But the real bestsellers, which have an almost legendary circulation, are the books of two authors, who themselves, have names of great significance: one is Ido Seter ("Seter" means "secrecy") whose hero is named "Oz Yaoz" ("Oz" means "strength," "yaoz" "will have courage") and the other is On Sarig ("On" means "potency", "Sarig" means "grid") whose hero is Danidin the invisible child.
These books are published in serials of many volumes; all are about one subject, with slight variations: a realistic description of a small heroic Israeli child who arrives at the camp of the cowardly Arabs and defeats them. The following passage from the book "The Young Detectives in the Sinai Operation," is an example:
"'Who are you?' shouted the Egyptian guard. He came towards me out of the darkness. The Egyptian, a fellow with a thick dark moustache and cruel eyes, looked at the boy as a cat looks at a mouse who is in its claws. 'What is your name?' he asked. . . and a wolf's teeth showed under his black moustache. 'If you do not tell me your name, at once I will order ten soldiers to stick ten spears in your eyes!'
'If you do that, the commander of the Egyptian army in Sinai will hang you on the nearest electric pole,' answered Eli calmly.
The Egyptian officer became frightened.
'Why are you standing there so stupidly? Your house should be destroyed!' He shouted at the guard who watched Eli. 'Bring a car and I will take him to the commander of the Egyptian army.' During the drive, he did not stop threatening Eli that he would cross his fingers, burn his ears, cut his nose, extract his teeth, make him blind and take out his brain."
Rivers of Blood
In these books, the description of the enemy is always accompanied by appropriate pictures. For example, in Ido Seter's book "Oz Yaoz and Pharaoh's crocodiles:"
"The commander, Ramadan-eagle-nose and the head of the enemy's spies was sitting, laughing to himself, a devil's laughter. Ramadan-eagle-nose wiped his eagle nose with a pink handkerchief; then he opened his desk drawer and took out a glittering Damascene dagger. He stroked the dagger blade with his fingers, and thought to himself with delight that soon, when the final massacre would start, Israel would be shaken. In his imagination, he had already seen how he was travelling in an open car in Tel-Aviv, and all around him rivers of blood."
The children, Ido Seter's enthusiastic readers, receive a lot of information about the Arabs: for example: the children are informed that the Arabs have "only one song in their mouths" which starts with the following words:
"We will assault the enemy
Out of the darkness, with all our might
Since we have no other delight
But the delight of murder."
If, incidentally, the faithful readers have not had any fears up to now they will have them from now on. And if they think that we live in times of tranquility, and perhaps peace might come soon, the mysterious author Ido Seter brings them up-to-date in educational language:
"So it will be, my band. Life does not float with the stream. At times, it seems as if everything is all-right and there is nothing to worry about, and no surprise is expected and then all of a sudden, somebody appears out of the darkness with all kinds of infernal instruments in his hand, an evil plot in his mind and wicked hatred in his heart. This is a sign that the war against the enemy spies goes on, and there is nothing to do but to confront them again with all our might and destroy them again. And it does not matter, with what we do it a pistol, a knife, or a pair of hard fists. Everything is part of the game. And believe me: this is no laughing matter, this is a war of life or death, and it has only one rule: if anyone comes to kill you, kill him first."
Perhaps, the oddest adventure of all is to find out those who hides behind these names. Who is, for example, "Ido Seter," the spiritual father of "Oz Yaoz?" It turns out that once he used to be the editor of "Bamahane," the Israeli-Army weekly and his name is Hazi Lopben. During the War of Independence he was in the Palmah. Later he served on the General Staff, and the things he tells about his work sound, from afar, like the stories of Oz Yaoz: "After the Palmah, I worked for a little on the General Staff as a specialist in Arab affairs. I used to publish articles, on their behalf, under the name 'Dr. Sason Ashriki.' We invented it, as if it was a man going around the Arab countries and telling what happens everywhere. But, obviously, it was based upon intelligence information. It was the first time that the I.D.F. had published information about the Arab countries and reported what was done on the other side of the hill. The head of the intelligence at that time was Benjamin Gibly. It was at the time of 'the Lavon Affair' and so I published, under the guise of Dr. Ashriki, material about the Syrian army, about the Jordanian National Guard etc. It was the first time that the intelligence had revealed its information about the enemy. But, obviously, not overtly.
"Afterwards, I moved on to real literature. I published my first two stories in the literary section of 'Ha'aretz.' At that period, I was appointed the deputy editor of 'Bamahane,' and when the editor was abroad, I edited the magazine. Later, I edited 'Rimon' a weekly published for a few years. Many argued that it was financed by the security service, but they could not prove it. After the weekly was closed, I felt bad. And then, I saw my daughter, Lili, reading a children's book by Ygal Mosenson. So I decided to write books of the same type but better."
And indeed, already by the beginning of his first book, there is an educational appeal to the young readers: "listen attentively, quietly, and do not start trembling from fear like a shaking leaf if in a moment or two, you face one of the most devilish devices of the enemy spies. Truly, an evil device. And danger will increase with every moment. But those who risk their life for their country, will win eternal praise. That is certain."
"All my names" says Lazi Lopben "are powerful. I invent them with clear intentions. Not like Shmuel or another common name, but a name that appeals to the ear. It is important, too. Thus, obviously a hero who is involved in espionage and violence cannot be named Haim Adini ("Adin" means "delicate."). So I called the hero Oz Yaoz, which means: here, 'one talks with fists.'" His Arab names are meaningful, too. The name of the head of the Egyptian espionage service, for example, is "Lieutenant-Colonel Mastul Bandura" ("Mastul" means "crazy," and "Bandura" means "tomato"). Names of other Arabs are: Mr. Mephisto, Halil Bukra, ("Bukra" means "tomorrow") etc. So one should be aware the difference.
"My thinking," said Hazi Lopben, "is based on what I would have liked to read as a child living in the reality of today. I try to write in simple basic language. Even a good poem is written in basic and simple language.
And the following is an example of basic Hebrew from my book 'Oz Yaoz:'
'Have you ever heard, perhaps, about Salim Hagida? If you have not, listen carefully. He was cruel as a Chinese snake, bold as an Indian tiger, and cunning as a Syrian fox. And he was a criminal from birth. Already in his childhood, he was more like a robber than a normal child. He was born in Jaffa, and when he was two years old, he tore off his mother's ear with a bite. At the age of seven he threw a chair on his teacher's head, and told her that two plus two is five, and that she should not bother him, that idiot. At the age of ten, he pushed his uncle under a running car since he had nothing else to do at that moment. What is there to say. This nut developed quickly, and at the age of ten, he already had a gang of his own, and he himself liked to decide whom to murder and whom to rob.' And it goes without saying, of course, that the Egyptian espionage service recruits him."
"It is important that the book has humour," says Hazi Lopben. "I gave a name to everything. I named the knife Marcel." Here is an example of the humour about Marcel the knife:
"He thought about Marcel. It was a magic knife. He bought it in the French port Marseille, in a special shop for battle knives. He thought about Marcel with delight: it was a murderous weapon. He always carried Marcel, everywhere he went. It was hidden in a leather case, tied under his armpit. Ha! Good old Marcel! Beautiful Marcel! Marcel, who knows how to stab deeply! You will hear more about Marcel. This is certain."
"It is important that a book be written half humorously," says Lopben. "That I learned from my teacher, Peter Cheney, the author of spy books. He has humour, too. I described, for example, various kinds of blows. There is a shalom-aleichem blow, a hammer blow, a good-night blow. There is a blow of good manners, and an end of the world blow, and some more blows with such names. Every blow has a different influence, and leaves a special mark. In the course of time, kids, you will learn how to distinguish between these different blows. For example: the blow called 'shalom-aleichem' is not so terrible, not so crushing. But when it hits the fight point, it turns the opponent's face from side to side and bends some of his bones, but it still does not finish him off totally."
Is Deceiving Children Permissible?
Hezy Lopben is not just a writer; he also has a personal philosophy and definite attitudes about children's books: "I do not support the opinion that a book should be educational. Someone can read the mildest book and then there might be a breakdown in his family and he will murder."
"And there is something else: we live in a period of complications with the Arabs, of what is called 'fields full of blood.' Thus, it is not right to tell children nice stories about flowers and butterflies and pure olive oil. This can lead to a breakdown: he will read nice stories about the twittering of birds, and all of a sudden there is war. There will thus have a breakdown of credibility. Is deceiving children permissible? Apart from that, there is something else I want to say: the Arabs are cunning. A difficult enemy, and not a stupid one. I, myself, hate them. I was brought up on a book which had pictures of the 1936 riots, pictures of killed people. This might contradict what I said that a book has no influence. But this is how things are, and it was a trauma, of which one cannot free oneself. According to my viewpoint the Arabs want to kill me and I do not want to kill them. Thus there is someone who will avenge the writer's vengeance since hundreds of thousands of children have already read in his books about Rafi Sardine's adventures, who is called so 'because of his body which is as lean as a sardine, or more so. He is lean and dark and quick as a devil and has a sharp mind and a memory like an African elephant.'" Rafi, a typical Israeli boy whose parents were killed by an Arab in his presence, says about his desire: "If I only knew how; if only I had the strength, I would have wiped him out with my two hands; I would have liked to do something, to seize him and simply strangle him. . ."
The State of Israel, obviously, helps him in his task with the assistance of the courageous hero Oz Yaoz, and with the active aid of all the educational libraries which circulate this literature in thousands of copies.
Another serial which is circulated at least as much as "Oz Yaoz" tells about the hero of On Sarig, Danidin. An Israeli boy an invisible hero. For anyone who has not bothered reading these books, a summary of one of them "Danidin in an Impossible Mission" is given below:
The book starts by telling that the Israeli broadcasting service announced by mistake the capture of the Jordanian broadcasting station on "Gilgal Mountain;" now it must be conquered, or we must pretend that we conquered it, "so that they will not think that we are liars." The director of the Israeli boradcasting service timidly suggests broadcasting an immediate denial, but the General Staff responds:
"All we need" roared the General Staff, "is to start denying our own statements!"
The one with the determined voice was the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for broadcasting affairs, Lieutenant-Colonel Zeev Bar-Zeev. Across his desk, sat the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for fighting, Lieutenant-Colonel, Yizhak Avrahami. "So, the situation is clear," he said, "we have no other alternative, we have to conquer the Jordanian Broadcasting station on Gilgal mountain within two to three hours."
Later on, in this sophisticated literary adventure, Danidin is parachuted straight into the Jordanian broadcasting station, and simply knocks at the door. When he is asked who it is, he simply answers: "King Hussein." The director of the station is frightened and shouts at the "two confused guards: that they are cheeky! asses! eggplants! stupid! Why do you close the door to our mighty king?!"
And what a coincidence! At the very same moment, the real King Hussein arrives at the gate. But the guards, who think it is Danidin, pour a pot of boiling tea on Hussein, the King of Jordan. "Oh father, mother," shouted the King, who was badly burnt. "Excellent!" cried the director of the station, triumphantly when he heard the groanings and the shouts. When it became clear that the boiling tea had been poured on King Hussein, the director of the station swears, as the masterpiece continues: "What have you done? Asses! locusts! thorns! swines!"
At the end of the book, when King Hussein is admitted into the station, Danidin enters with him, and delivers a speech in praise of the "Whole Land of Israel," on the Jordanian broadcasting service: "All of Eretz Israel is the Land of the Bible, and only the people of Israel in the land of the Bible can turn it again into a wonderful land. Therefore, we should free the whole of our homeland from the yoke of the Arabs, who invaded it, and would like to make the land of the Bible part of the Arab land. It will return, and the whole of it will belong to our people, the people of the Bible forever! Soldiers of Israel, the enslaved homeland is waiting for you, yearning. Go on and free Judaea and Ephraim."
Sarig, who writes under the name of Avner Carmel as the author of the endless series called "The Young Detectives" and "The Young Sportsmen" of which more than thirty different books have already been published, writes also under the name of Yigal Golan.
The author of this serial of the adventures of Danidin is surprisingly, a scholar of military history by profession! And what is more surprising he is convinced that his books are very important and educational.
Shraga Gafni, previously a member of Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), says most seriously: "I try to inculcate love for the homeland in my readers. My writing is aimed primarily at nurturing in the reader love for the heritage of Eretz Israel and writing some more glorious pages in the heritage of Israel. It might sound florid, but this is the way I feel. In my opinion being an Israeli is a responsibility. We are the people of the prophets who have to set an example. In my opinion, the books about Danidin are important since the child identifies himself with the hero and learns from him loyalty and love for the homeland. Danidin uses his power of being invisible for his parents, his country, his friends and his community. Danidin is a model hero. He will never hurt anyone weaker than himself, and will never abuse or insult the enemy."
And what about the abuses and the names he uses for the Arabs in the book: "cheeky asses eggplants stupid locusts thorns swines?"
Shraga Gafni is really surprised: "Some of these things were said by Danidin! It is the director of the Arab broadcasting station who talks that way! We know that an Arab swears at his workers! And actually he would have said sons of a bitch, to say nothing of other swearwords. Thus, I wrote only a vegetarian list with a little meat. Swine meat. But the Israeli in my book? He will never swear! He behaves nobly towards the enemy, too."
Very Educational Books
"And I am convinced that my books are very educational! I have always said to myself: 'You have to check responsibly, every word you write!' In my opinion, a book is the most powerful means for moulding values in a child! The early reading is absorbed by the child and is deeply engraved. Therefore, one should not do harm by writing, and my heroes are always decent."
Shraga Gafni believes wholeheartedly that his books are educational and important. Here is another example taken from another book of Danidin which is circulated in thousands of copies:
When Danidin enters Egypt he simply plants a box, with a note "attached to it by a rubber band," on which the following is written: "The Death Box: when a certain password, known only to the Chief of the General Staff of the I.D.F., is whispered into the tube, it will blow up and destroy the whole of the enemy country with all its inhabitants."
The reaction of the cowardly Egyptians in the educational book: "'We will run away!' shouted Nasser and started running, but he immediately fell down. Nasser got up immediately, and continued to run, and everyone ran away too. Ho! You should have seen what a flight it was. 'I properly fulfilled my duty,' thought Danidin, 'From now on, the Egyptians will not dare to start waging wars against us.'"
Here is an excerpt from a letter from Eli Shahaf, an angry father, who wrote to the editor of Ha'aretz:
Incidentally, I happened to see the latest masterpiece of the terrible invisible hero, which my son brought home from the municipal library.
When it comes to children's literature, it is necessary in my humble opinion, that there be something beyond the wish to get rich, when writing a book. I do not want my son to get his knowledge from anyone who finds himself a way of expressing his political opinions and his frustrations. I was shocked, once, when I read how Arab children were brought up to hate Israel, and now I happen to see books, of which the contents, the mode of expression and the drawings which accompany them are full of arrogance and superiority and contribute more than anything else to the hatred of our neighbours.
These books have been read by many children. I invite the Minister of Education and his advisers, who delcare, from sunrise to sunset, that our children's education is dear to them, to study these masterpieces.
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