Destruction of famous Gaza bookstore breaks crucial lifeline

The destruction of a rare bookstore selling English books is not the worst tragedy to strike Gaza this week. But for its people, it is the manifestation of a multidimensional war that disconnects the besieged Palestinians from the world.

Hanya Aljamal couldn’t help but cry as she leafed through the pages of one of the last books she had picked up from the Samir Mansour bookstore in Gaza during her last visit a month ago.

Of all the books that helped her endure the 14-year siege of the Palestinian gang, The search for meaning of man stood out as a spiritual guide on how to survive trying circumstances. In the case of the book’s author, Viktor Frankl, it was the mass murder of six million Jews, the Holocaust, that took his parents and his wife to concentration camps.

“Nothing in the world makes you okay, no possible reason can,” said Aljamal, a 24-year-old translator and writer, to herself as she read the book.

Almost a month later, the Samir Mansour Library, the only bookstore where she could buy an English copy of Frankl’s book in Gaza, was to be destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. As his friends sent photos of the books buried in the rubble on May 18, Aljamal cried again – this time fearing his sadness would be invalidated as people died across the densely populated territory.

It was not the first tragedy in Gaza in the past ten days, of course. The loud rockets that keep Aljamal up at night wiped out entire families, including 67 children.

Recalling the book, Aljamal sobs in a voice note sent to TRT World: “I am thinking about what is happening to us right now and I think it is not correct either.

Each destruction leaves a different mark. “You never get used to it,” she says.

In addition to the killings, the destruction of the Samir Mansour Bookstore, which housed the largest collection of English literature in Gaza, makes him think it is a manifestation of Israel’s multidimensional warfare that aims to make Gaza even more isolated.

Samir Mansour, the owner of the publishing house and bookstore which has the largest collection of English literature in besieged Gaza, looks at a book in front of the remains of his store which was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. May 20, 2021, Gaza, Palestine. (Mohammed Samir Mansour)

“Even under blockade, it made us feel like part of the world,” she says.

Each time she passed, she consulted the books displayed in the large window and sometimes found herself absorbed by the only English selection of the enclave for hours. Mansour Bookstore, also a publishing house, says it has not been able to save the books in the large collection.

“Israel aims to kill. Otherwise, it aims to make life unbearable, ”says Aljamal.

Samir Mansour’s bookstore was not the only one affected. Others, including the Iqraa Library, were completely or partially destroyed in Al Thalatiny Street, affectionately known as al Maktabat Street, which literally translates to “the street of bookstores”.

Even though the siege of Gaza has been a reality for over a decade, it is a time when the people of Gaza began to sense what this siege really means. The enclave’s borders are impassable and no personal watercraft are allowed to set sail to help transport passengers to other locations.

What can leave Gaza now are only rockets aimed at Israel. Before the first rocket was fired, Hamas, the group that controls the enclave, warned Tel Aviv to withdraw its security forces attacking worshipers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque.

Instead, Israeli police stormed the mosque, firing stun grenades at worshipers on a night that Muslims consider the most sacred of the year. The brutal Tel Aviv offensive has killed more than 227 Palestinians to date and Hamas airstrikes have killed 12 people in Israel.

What can enter Gaza is also limited. International aid which has been restricted under the blockade since 2007 is now largely prevented from reaching Gaza.

An English copy of British detective novelist Agatha Christie's book

An English copy of the book by British detective novelist Agatha Christie “Curtain” buried in the rubble of the Samir Mansour Publishing House and Bookstore which housed the world’s largest collection of English literature, May 20, 2021, Gaza, Palestine. (Mohammed Samir Mansour)

But until the bombing, the 21-year-old bookstore was able to supply a fair amount of the things Gazans needed because of the siege: getting Palestinian voices out of Gaza. and bring world literature to Gaza.

“The Samir Mansour Bookstore and other libraries have given us a reason to live,” says Gaza writer Hedaya Shamun. Under a blockade, getting published is a tall order; holding physical copies of prints is a luxury.

“I was in heaven when my novel was printed in Egypt. But I couldn’t get a copy of the book except after 6 months – it was transferred from friend to friend until they could give me a certain number of copies, ”Shamun says.

“I couldn’t prepare for the signing party because I didn’t have copies of the books,” she says. The writer was exhausted by the cost of printing his successive book, Sea girl.

But the owner of the bookstore, Mansour, then made things easier for Shamun. He printed Shamun’s novel and placed them in his bookstore as well.

“He gave me a good amount of copies so that I could start my own signing parties. [this time],” she says.

The Khatwa Company, which shared the Kahil building with the Samir Mansour Bookstore and Publishing House, painted its number on the rubble after an Israeli airstrike turned the Gaza building into a rubble heap on May 18, 2021.

The Khatwa Company, which shared the Kahil building with the Samir Mansour Bookstore and Publishing House, painted its number on the rubble after an Israeli airstrike turned the Gaza building into a pile of rubble on May 18, 2021 ( Credit: Mohammed Samir Mansour)

Efforts to rebuild in the midst of destruction

The store hosted meetings of the literary community until one day the IDF informed Mansour that the Kahil building, where the bookstore is located, would be bombed next to some educational centers belonging to the Islamic University.

“The destruction of the library by the occupation will negatively affect the community of readers and writers, which publishes books in its various fields and gives it the opportunity to participate in international exhibitions,” says Mohammed Samir, Mansour’s son. .

Mohammed, who sometimes worked with his father, is extremely sad that Mansour’s childhood dream has been lost. The loss of their vast collection is a huge regret for everyone.

The store had previously survived a major Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014; other buildings had not been so lucky. While much of the enclave has been reduced to rubble, some places that have deteriorated have been rebuilt – but it was before this latest operation that Palestinians confirm to be the worst in its ferocity.

Aljamal, the translator from Gaza, saw how long it took for Gaza to recover from a dire lack of funds.

“There is ten times more destruction this time,” she said in despair. “I keep thinking that if we survive Gaza won’t.”

But the Mansour family is determined to continue rebuilding the bookstore and keeping the literary spirit alive, even as destruction continues around them. They have the support of hundreds of bibliophiles inside and outside Gaza.

A crowdfunding page set up by two human rights lawyers has already raised more than $ 8,000. The funds will eventually allow Mansour to rent new land and rebuild a library and bookstore. “All the heart, creativity and talent poured into this magical place are gone,” called the page to action.

“Please help us raise funds to rebuild Gaza’s community bookstore, bombarded to pieces,” Clive Stafford Smith, one of the crowdfunders mentionned.

“Who really believes that you can bomb the world for peace?”

Source: TRT World

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