The Forum of Arabic–Hebrew Translators seeks to promote discussion of Arabic literature and its translation into Hebrew and to make it accessible to the Israeli reader. At the same time, it aims to counteract the sad fact that only 2% of Jews born in Israel know enough Arabic to read literature in that language. This situation appears even worse if one considers that Israel is in the center of the Middle East and that Arabic is the mother tongue of about one-fifth of its citizens and the language of heritage of a large part of its Jewish inhabitants.
To achieve these goals, in 2015 the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute established the forum. It brings together more than 100 of the leading translators and scholars of translation in Israel, including renowned scholars, veteran translators of Arabic literature, the “next generation”—young translators of Arabic prose and poetry—and Jewish and Arab poets, both women and men. They see their work as a word-driven formative act and at the same time as a cultural and political act. In the forum they hash out what can and cannot be translated and investigate the differences between the two. Moreover, possibilities are discovered of moving from one culture to another, and from one language to another, revealing the richness within them and between them.
The Forum of Arabic–Hebrew Translators is the home port of the Maktoob Book Series, which shines a spotlight on living and breathing Arabic literature, both poetry and prose. The project aims to enable the Israeli reader to become familiar with the voices, ideas, and lives that are totally absent from the literary, social, and political discourse in Israel, by translating works written throughout the Middle East, including Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi literature.
The forum’s members serve as a council of experts on translation issues. They meet regularly and discuss translation matters. The meetings also include discussions and lectures on the sociology and politics of translation. In addition, forum members put together the schedule of translations for the coming years. Among other things, they discuss the books and texts scheduled for translation as part of the Maktoob Series, submit them for peer review, and then divide them among themselves for translation.