/ 6 June 2024

Children’s book on Palestine gets blowback

Untitled Design (26)

Illustrated by South African artist Nathi Ngubane, From the River to the Sea: A Colouring Book has sparked controversy, drawing sharp criticism from Zionist groups who have labelled it “anti-Semitic”. 

The colouring book, designed to be both educational and engaging for children, aims to introduce young readers to Palestine’s history, culture and notable figures through an interactive format.

Ngubane explained to the Mail & Guardian that the inspiration for it came after South African lawyers brought charges against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice early this year. 

Following these events, his publisher approached him with the idea of creating a book focused on Palestine, particularly in light of its work on Covid-related publications.

“Social Bandit Media steps in during critical moments,”  Ngubane said. “In 2020, we addressed Covid, and now we are responding to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Our goal was to create an accessible activity book for children that also educates them about Palestine’s struggle for freedom.” 

Ngubane and his team drew inspiration from global solidarity movements, including the widespread protests supporting Palestinian rights. 

As an activist, Ngubane sees the book as a tool for political education, raising awareness about the Palestinian cause.

The book’s title, From The River To The Sea, has been particularly contentious. Pro-Israel lobbyists claim the slogan calls for ethnic cleansing against Israeli Jews.

Ngubane acknowledges its controversial nature but clarifies his intentions. 

“To me, From the River to the Sea is an inspirational chant for freedom, coexistence and human rights. 

“It signifies hope and the pursuit of justice.”

Despite this, the book has faced severe backlash. Exclusive Books, a major chain, has removed it from its shelves. Attempts to reach Batya Bricker, the general manager of books and brand, for comments on the removal and the store’s definition of “controversial” content, were unsuccessful.

Ngubane expresses his dismay at the negative reactions and the hateful messages he has received. 

The Cape Town branch of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies alleged on Facebook the book promoted “the obliteration of Jews from our historical and rightful homeland — Israel”.

“The pushback highlights a stark double standard,” said Ngubane. “On one hand, we see children being burnt alongside their parents in Gaza, suffering unimaginable horrors, with over 26 000 Palestinians killed since 7 October. On the other hand, people are outraged by a colouring book.” 

Ngubane asserts his belief in the Palestinian quest for freedom and refuses to succumb to censorship, echoing Nelson Mandela’s words, “We are not free until the people of Palestine are free.”

Funds from the book’s sales will be used to support humanitarian relief in Gaza where Israel’s insurgency continues.