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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

SA author defends his Palestinian-themed colouring book amidst criticism

From the River to the Sea, a colouring book by Nathi Ngubane was published on February 25 2024 by Social Bandit Media.

A South African author and illustrator has had to defend himself after being accused of promoting the obliteration of Jews through his colouring book, From the River to the Sea.

“Hate messages came my way. I was bombarded the whole of last week on LinkedIn and Facebook by Zionists. I’ve read massages stating [that] they would burn the books if they ever came across them. Another message said they would love to purchase the books and use them as toilet paper,” said Nathi Ngubane to The Citizen.

The illustrator has also been told that he is not qualified to speak on the Middle East conflict.

“They started complaining about the book asking bookstores to remove it from their shelves,” said Ngubane.

He maintains that the kids’ book isn’t anti-semitic.

“The phrase is simply an inspirational call for freedom, human rights and co-existence. The aim of this book is to simply tell the story of Palestine and their fight for freedom. So, I’m receiving all of these hate messages while children and their parents are being burnt alive. Yet, a colouring book is where we draw the line? As a visual artist and writer, it’s my responsibility to contribute to the political education of our youth,” said Ngubane.

The Jewish Board of Deputies speaks out

“While we respect different political views and agendas, it is frankly shameful that children are dragged in to further a political agenda in this way,” analyst at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Adam Charnas told The Citizen.

“The politicisation of childhood is disruptive as it divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. When people split the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ they are using a defense mechanism commonly associated with severe psychopathology.”

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‘No censorship’

Such is the pressure that certain Exclusive Books stores have removed copies of the book from their shelves. The bookstore released a statement defending the sale of the book in some of its outlets.

Charnas said the removal of the book in certain stores shouldn’t be seen as censorship “but as protecting our youth and fostering social cohesion.”

Charnas said the title of the book was offensive because “it implies that the state should exist on all the territory that is today sovereign Israel.”

The title refers to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  

“It is at best a refusal to recognize the Jewish right to live as an independent nation in their ancestral homeland. At worst it’s a call for annihilation of Jews now living there,” said Charnas.

Those who use the slogan argue that it is a peaceful call for the unification of the two peoples. It has been used by certain Jewish groups in the past.

“To that it can be responded that it is primarily extreme right-wing Jewish groups that have done so, and that it has never had peaceful connotations when used by either population. Indeed, we the SAJBD, as the 120-year-old democratically elected representative body of the South African Jewish community, reject the use of the term by all factions.”

The inspiration

The idea to put together the book came after the South African government approached The International Court of Justice (ICJ) with the charge of genocide against the Israeli government late last year.

“Right after the hearing, we then came up with an idea to create an activity book where kids can learn about Palestine and their fight for freedom,” shared Ngubane.

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From the River to the Sea was published on 25 February 2024 by Social Bandit Media. The organisation is a collective that intervenes in critical moments to try produce educational material.

Ngubane has previously collaborated with Social Bandit Media for a book titled Duma Says, which was about people residing in informal settlements during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and how they could avert contracting the disease.

He has always wanted to work on a book like From the River to the Sea, which explores Palestine’s history, culture, its fight for freedom and look into some of the country’s prominent figures.

The war after 7 October

However, after the events of 7 October 2023 when Hamas fighters attacked communities along Israel’s southern fence with Gaza, throngs of Palestinian civilians were attacked by the Israeli government.

“We then saw this as the right time to start telling the story of Palestine. A lot of the news I was consuming wasn’t giving us a full picture of what is happening in Palestine. To this day, 36,000 Palestinians have been killed,”

Ngubane said he was inspired to do something by the acts of solidarity with Palestine throughout the world, including Mzansi’s showing at the ICJ.

“This felt like the right time to create an activity book that would help parents and children understand the war in Gaza. At the same time, it teaches them about Palestine’s people and its history,” he said.

“We wanted to keep the theme throughout the book. It’s one of Palestinian hope and resistance and the Palestinians bravery and courage during this horrific time in our history.”

Charnas maintained that there is nothing wrong in a children’s book which is educational and or religious in nature.

“Our disdain for this book is born out of how it makes children its target audience as well as its overtly hateful, false and indoctrinating aims.”

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