Children’s book on Palestine occupation pulled from Exclusive Books’ shelves

“It is sad when a book like this gets pulled from the biggest retailer in the country”

| By

Illustration from the children’s colouring book From the River to the Sea by Nathi Ngubane.

A colouring book aimed at educating children on the Israeli occupation of Palestine has apparently disappeared from the shelves of Exclusive Books.

The book is titled From the River to the Sea. It is illustrated by Nathi Ngubane and published by Social Bandit Media.

A spokesperson for Social Bandit Media said they were “aware that Exclusive Books had removed the books from their shelves and placed them in their storeroom”.

“Certain stores also told customers that the book comes up as ‘unknown’ on their system. It is also not on their website. Others have received calls saying their orders were cancelled. So it appears that Exclusive Books thought they could quietly remove the books without anyone noticing,” the spokesperson said.

“At the same time, they think it’s perfectly fine to hide the books in a storeroom and sell it to a customer when they ask for it. But they don’t feel comfortable displaying it in their stores,” the spokesperson said.

GroundUp has made numerous attempts to obtain comment from Exclusive Books, without success. While we cannot confirm it, there is some indication that the book was removed following pressure from Zionist lobbyists.

According to the publisher, 3,000 copies have been sold so far, with all proceeds going to Penny Appeal’s Gaza projects.

Ngubane said he believed “Palestinian content” should “have a place on our bookshelves”.

“We urge bookstores to stand on the right side of history,” he said.

Ngubane said he and the publisher got insights from Palestinians, teachers and parents before publishing the book. They also consulted “anti-Zionist Jewish historians like Ilan Pappe”.

From The River to The Sea isn’t antisemitic at all. The phrase is simply an inspirational call for freedom and coexistence. The aim is to tell the story of Palestine and their fight for freedom.”

He said that they’ve seen millions of people around the world showing support to the people of Palestine by taking to the streets in solidarity. “We’ve seen artists around the world paint beautiful murals depicting Palestinian resistance and we’ve seen South Africa approach the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza.”

“Having been inspired by these displays of solidarity and resistance, Social Bandit Media and I created this activity book with the aim of giving parents and children a chance to educate themselves about … Palestine,” he said.

Ngubane said he had been “bombarded” with hate messages on social media. “I am receiving these hate messages while children and their parents are being burned alive in Rafah and yet a colouring book is where the line is drawn? The people of Palestine deserve their story to be told and as a visual artist and writer, it is my responsibility to contribute to the political education of our youth.”

Adam Charnas, an analyst with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), responding to questions from GroundUp, said it was the “sole purview of the booksellers to decide what literature they choose to stock, and decisions regarding this are taken independently”.

He argued that the book is antisemitic.

“The idea that there should be a Palestinian state ‘From the River to the Sea,’ which refers to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, implies that the state should exist on all the territory that is today sovereign Israel. It is at best a refusal to recognise the Jewish right to exist in our ancestral and historical homeland, and at worst a call for annihilation of Jews,” Charnas wrote in an email.

“The SAJBD, as the 120 year-old democratically elected representative body of the South African Jewish community, find it particularly reprehensible that this book is aimed at indoctrinating the youth, while portraying a blatantly false narrative regarding the history of the territory. By installing the idea that a Palestinian State should encompass all of the territory designated to the Jewish people by the UN in 1947, the authors and publishers are leading impressionable minds to accept a concept that eradicating a Jewish State is somehow palatable,” he said.

“Zionism is the core belief that the Jewish people, being a religious and not a racial group, have the right to be self-governed in our ancestral homeland (in which there has been a Jewish presence for over 3,000 years). It is thus no different from Zulu, Tswana, Sotho, Hellenic or Portuguese nationalism. Research by the Kaplan Centre at UCT indicates that 96% of South Africa’s Jews are connected to Israel,” Charnas said.

“We reject the notion that the Jewish population use the term antisemitism as a weapon to silence free expression over Israel. It is typical of an approach whereby certain people prefer to talk about Jews rather than to them, who presume to decide for themselves what constitutes antisemitism rather than honestly engaging with what those who after all are the objects of such prejudice have to say on the subject. We, as the targets of the bigotry, will decide for ourselves what we deem offensive. Just as we do not claim to understand why certain events may be racially offensive to LGBTQI+, Coloured or Hindu population groups.“

Mervyn Sloman, owner of the Book Lounge, a popular independent Cape Town bookstore, said he did not have a problem with the book. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be selling it.”

“It’s a pity that this book is being used to entrench positions rather than a means of conversation and trying to find common ground,” Sloman told GroundUp. He said they had been inundated with requests for the book but they had also had a lot of anger directed at them.

“I don’t know on what basis they [Exclusive Books] made that decision. It is sad when a book like this gets pulled from the biggest retailer in the country and possibly others,” Sloman said.

“The act of selection and curation is a political one,” he added. “The essence of buying or deciding where to display books or quantities are all political decisions. To be a bookstore is to be a political entity. It’s about being conscious of it. I just wish people would try to listen a little bit more rather than entrenching their own positions.”

Correction on 2024-06-10 11:20

The original version of this article named the spokesperson of Social Media Bandit. Before publication the spokesperson had asked not to be named but was nevertheless named in a communication mix-up. In general we prefer not to quote companies anonymously, and would have therefore omitted all comment from Social Bandit Media, but we judged that it is too late to do that for this story.

TOPICS:  Israel-Palestine

Next:  In photos: Cape Town houses flooded

Previous:  First sitting of new Parliament will be at the Cape Town International Convention Centre

Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

That South Africa’s leading bookstore group should succumb to partisan pressure and remove books from its shelves is, in itself, scandalous.

That this company’s censorial actions disregard the horrors that are being rained on Gaza, appearing instead to side with the perpetrators of such horrors, is outrageous.

That this is made self evident in their removal of a children’s colouring in book would be comical - if it weren’t so tragic.

How is this any different from the book bans and removal of books from libraries and classrooms playing out across the Atlantic? Or the burning of books in Nazi Germany in the 1930s?

Such actions echo the protestations of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, a body well known for its censorial advocacy; shutting down voices and opinions that do not conform with their own, often falsely accusing those with whom they disagree of being antisemitic. But that is to be expected of the SAJBD, as a Zionist lobby group, that is their job.

As a bookstore that has built its brand and reputation in the post apartheid era of South Africa, this is the last thing one would expect from Exclusive Books. Or are they literally living up to their name?

Every South African that cherishes the freedom of expression brought by the advent of democracy thirty years ago - a freedom which has mostly been maintained - should, regardless of their position on the crisis in the Middle East, demand the return of Nathi Ngubane’s coloring in book to the shelves of Exclusive Books.

And until this is so, we should boycott that brand; from the Limpopo River to Sea Point.

© 2024 GroundUp. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

We put an invisible pixel in the article so that we can count traffic to republishers. All analytics tools are solely on our servers. We do not give our logs to any third party. Logs are deleted after two weeks. We do not use any IP address identifying information except to count regional traffic. We are solely interested in counting hits, not tracking users. If you republish, please do not delete the invisible pixel.