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Between Partitions and Translations: Reviving Andalusian Visions in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Yuval's research focuses on the cultural visions and activities of a group of Arab-Jewish intellectuals in early 20th-century Palestine, it seeks not only to reveal marginalised voices, but also to expose unexplored political options that aimed to transform and reshape social and cultural realities at a formative moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is also an opportunity to challenge the institutionalised national historiographies, as well as the disciplinary and political divisions that dominate our reading of the past and present.

At the centre of the cultural work of this group of intellectuals is a vision of a seemingly lost world: Islamic ‘al-Andalus’ or ‘Sefarad’ of the 10th–12th centuries. This was the famous Golden Age of Jewish intellectual life, the age of great thinkers and poets such as Maimonides, Moses Ibn-Ezra, and Yehuda Halevi, who were inextricably linked to Arabic poetry and Islamic philosophy while advancing the study of Jewish law and Hebrew philology and poetry. In light of this intertwined cultural heritage, the Arab-Jewish intellectuals in Palestine viewed their time as an ‘Andalusian moment’ in which Jews and Muslims came together in a shared homeland, as they did in medieval Iberia before the expulsion. They tried to revive this medieval vision as a social and political platform for modern Jewish-Arab coexistence in Palestine.

Who, then, made up this group? The prominent members were Yosef Meyouhas, Abraham Shalom Yahuda, David Yellin, Isaac Benjamin Yahuda, and Abraham Elmalih. Born in Palestine in the second half of the 19th century, they were part of a growing circle of native scholars whose intellectual activities encompassed ethnographic research, philology, translation, journalism, and education. During the late Ottoman Era, they were active members in both Hebrew and Arabic revival movements. While the increasing hostility between Jews and Arabs opened a linguistic breach between Hebrew and Arabic, they insisted on holding on to both languages, positioning themselves in the borderland between them, and using translation as a political and cultural tool. They published hundreds of essays, political commentaries, translations, short stories, and poems, mostly in local Hebrew and Arabic newspapers and journals, marking the first modern phenomenon of Arabic-Hebrew literary bilingualism since the great Arab-Jewish poets of medieval al-Andalus. Their perception of al-Andalus led to fierce disputes with leading European Jewish scholars over the interpretation and representation of the Andalusian Jewish ‘Golden Age’, which Yuval has analysed in depth in previous research. While European scholars emphasised Hebrew separatist elements, they emphasised its multilingual, translational, and interreligious aspects.

The research focuses on four of their major translational projects, all translations from Arabic to Hebrew: Yalde Arav (Children of Arabia), a collection of biblical tales from the Arab-Palestinian oral tradition by Yosef Meyouhas (1927); Mishle Arav (Tales of the Arabs), a comprehensive collection of Arabic proverbs by Isaac Benjamin Yahuda (1932); Kalila wa Dimna (Kalila and Dimna), a famous collection of animal fables that were translated from Sanskrit to Persian, Arabic, and Hebrew by Avraham Elmalih (1927); and Ha-melekh Umar al Na’man u-Vanav (King Umar al Na’man and his sons), a section from the Thousand and One Nights by David Yellin (1930).

These translations stand out because they do not belong to a uniform religious, national, geographic or linguistic tradition. They traverse languages, time, space, and culture, providing unique case studies of translations without original written sources. They combine oral and written traditions, thus blurring distinctions between author and translator, original and copy. They present a unique linguistic mix of Hebrew and Arabic which challenges national distinctions, offering exceptional evidence of modern Hebrew-Arabic hybridity. These translations are not merely literary exercises: they embody an alternative political possibility of shared Hebrew-Arabic culture, against the mainstream Zionist separatist approach.

Yuval's research on these translations has three axes: (1) textual analysis, focusing on linguistic, structural, and thematic aspects that reflect the turbulent Palestinian politics of the 1920s and 1930s; (2) their public reception compared to other literary projects in Hebrew and Arabic circles; and (3) the broader political context and implications—the translation strategies, selection of texts, and the translators’ cultural and political motivations as stated in the prefaces, interviews, and private correspondence. It also has three broad disciplinary aims: (1) to position Arab-Jewish thought at the forefront of scholarly discourse on the modern history of Palestine/Israel, highlighting options that were marginalised and forgotten; (2) to restore an essential element of modern Hebrew and Arabic literatures—the first Hebrew-Arabic literary circle—which has been, and still is, overlooked in literary historiography; (3) to generate links across Jewish, Arabic, and Spanish studies as well as across medieval and modern periodization.