No Arabic Harry Potters in Israel

Maybe someone can explain this: Israel imposes a law drawn up by the British in 1939, before the state was created, to block the importing of Arabic-language children's books from Syria and Lebanon.

As the AFP reports:

Arab-Israeli publisher Salah Abassi told Israeli public radio on Monday that authorities ordered him to stop importing Arabic-language children's books from the two longtime foes of Israel.

The ban includes translations of such books as Pinocchio and Harry Potter as well as Arabic classics.

"The trade and industry ministry and treasury warned me that importing those books is illegal," said Abassi, who imported the books through Jordan.

The ban is based on a decree from 1939 -- when the area was under British mandate -- prohibiting the importation of books from countries that are at war with Israel.

Abassi told the Maariv daily most of the books can be found only in Lebanon and Syria.

"If they were printed in Jordan or Egypt, which are friendly to Israel, I would lose no time in buying them there. Now the significance is that the Arabic reading public in Israel will not be able to enjoy the best literature," he said.

Besides mourning the losses to children's reading lists, blocking books printed by cold neighbors is empty politics. Are publishers of childern's books in Beirut or Damascus really a target for Israel? Because the message reads: move to Amman or Cairo and you'll be able to export your translations of J.K. Rowling. An effective strategy for encouraging regional trade and underwhelming book sales in major Arab capitals.

How the ban can be based on a law drawn up during the British Mandate makes it all the more confusing. To quote a blogger in Egypt: "This does not really make sense (in various ways)... Surely Israel does not recognize the laws in place before its creation?"

What other pre-Israel laws, even ones drafted by British colonials, are applied at convenience in Israel? We know hundred-year old Palestinian land deeds are consistently ignored. So what, besides this import ban, is respected?

Also, will the AFP clear up a very murky point?