Intercultural relations between Arabs and Israeli Jews as reflected in Arabic translations of modern Hebrew literature

Mahmoud Kayyal

Contacts between Arabic and Israeli Hebrew cultures have taken place in the shadow of a prolonged and violent political conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. The intercultural dialogue between them has, therefore, been antagonistic, polemical, and fraught with stereotypes and prejudices. This antagonistic dialogue is also reflected in Hebrew–Arabic translation activity, since the elements involved in this activity and the considerations which guided them both before and in the course of the translation were, first and foremost, political. The translations themselves were not accepted as literary creations, but rather as documents reflecting the culture of the other. Neither the presence of an ethnic Arab minority in Israel nor the peace agreements between Israel and certain Arab states brought about any significant change in the nature of translation activity. Clearly, therefore, in a state of violent national conflict translation activity will produce translations whose purpose is ideological rather than literary.

Table of contents

In this paper I shall attempt to trace the influence of intercultural contacts between Jews and Arabs on the translation of Modern Hebrew literature into Arabic. My basic assumption is that in a situation of violent national conflict, antagonistic dialogue, with its implications for the character of translation activity between the two parties, will increase: in effect, translation activity will cease to be a vehicle for fruitful intercultural dialogue, and will become an arena [ p. 54 ]of struggle between political and ideological viewpoints. The considerations of translators, editors and publishers in the selection, translation and publication of literary works will no longer be purely literary; they will be primarily political and ideological, whether the purpose of the translation is to advance the cause of peace and understanding between the peoples concerned, or whether it is to “know one’s enemy”. Ideological considerations will also influence the translator in the course of the translation process. Thus, the integrity of the translated text, the stylistic level of its language, the degree to which the source language is introduced into the translated text and so forth will, in the main, express the ideology under whose influence the translators work.

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