Rebuilding Culture – GulfToday

Samir Mansour, Palestinian owner of the eponymous bookstore and publishing house which had the largest collection of English literature in Gaza, stands in front of the rubble of his bookstore after it was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, the town of Gaza. AFP

On May 18 last year, during its 11-day bombing campaign over Gaza, Israel demolished the five-story building housing Samir Mansour’s bookstore, the largest in the strip, slashing 100,000 books into paper and shredded cardboard.

Warned that the building would be targeted, Mansour rushed to the scene minutes before Israel dropped its bombs, but he dared not enter to rescue computers and documents. Mansour said, “At that moment I knew the meaning of pain, what it means to lose everything you loved.” Financial losses, estimated at $700,000, were particularly heavy for poverty-stricken Gaza.

As Mansour has no ties to any political party or armed faction, he called the Israeli strikes “an attack on culture”.

Opened in 2000 on busy Salaheddin Street near Gaza’s three universities, the bookstore was popular with students and readers. It served as a community center, obtained books from libraries and other stores on behalf of patrons, and published local writers. He had the largest collection of English literature in Gaza.

Nicknamed Al-Amal, Hope, the bookstore provided course materials for high school and university students, books to broaden the horizons of children trapped in Gaza, and books to give hope to

Gazans who have lost hope since Israel imposed its relentless siege and blockade in 2006-2007 after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections and seized power in Gaza.

Other bookstores along al-Thalatiny Street, also known as al Maktabat Street, or “the street of bookstores,” were destroyed or damaged during Israel’s offensive against knowledge as well as Palestinian civilians and their power and sewage treatment, hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, manufacturing facilities, farms and public buildings.

During Israel’s bitz, six iconic high-rise buildings were targeted and razed and 184 residential and commercial properties were destroyed. Israel attracted a lot of bad publicity for trying to silence the foreign press by striking the al-Jalaa Tower which housed the offices of al-Jazeera and the Associated Press. However, little attention has been paid to the bookstores that lift the spirits of some of Gaza’s two million continually beleaguered residents.

On February 17, Al-Amal, rebuilt and restocked, was rededicated thanks to donations from around the world. Mansour said, “I was devastated when the shop was destroyed, although my friends and relatives cheered me up. But I was born again, today is a new birthday for me.

UK supporters have launched a global GoFundMe campaign and amassed a collection of 150,000 books. Among them are children’s books, novels by local, Arab and foreign authors, and business and computer programming manuals totaling 400,000 books when combined with other acquisitions.

Mansour’s story was reminiscent of the Oxford and Cambridge bookstore that was opened during wartime Homs in Syria by husband-and-wife architects, Ghassan Jansiz and Marwa al-Sabouni. They too were motivated to provide Syrian children, students and adults with books that would provide learning and distraction during difficult and dangerous times. Every time I went to Homs (before covid) I visited the bookstore where there was a constant flow of customers. Gassan and Marwa have a dual mission: to provide books largely in English to enable Syrians to learn the global lingua franca and to rebuild the damaged and destroyed heritage of Homs.

Two days after Al-Amal reopened in Gaza, the Mosul University Library, ransacked by Daesh and bombed during the city’s occupation, welcomed students once again. Books were also donated by businesses and people around the world as the reconstruction was carried out by the United Nations Program with financial support from Germany.

“This is an extraordinary moment in the history of our city,” the university’s director of libraries, Sayf Al Ashqar, told the Guardian. “The reopening of the library is not only important for the students, but for all of us who have lived through this terrible time. It is a symbol of a new beginning and we would like to thank everyone who made it possible.

Publishers have donated some 20,000 higher education books through UK Book Aid International after Professor Alaa Hamdon approached the charity. “I have always believed that libraries are beacons of knowledge – a beacon for those who value learning. [Daesh] turned off that light for a while, but now our lighthouse shines again. Libraries can only thrive when they are full of wonderful and inspiring books.

The University of Mosul library, the second largest in Iraq, founded in 1921, was reputed to be among the richest in the country. During Daesh’s rule, around 8,000 to 10,000 irreplaceable ancient books and manuscripts were burned or damaged. Daesh burned books and texts that did not conform to its ideology. Unesco said it was “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history”. The library now has shelving that can accommodate 100,000 books.

During the two and a half years that Daesh occupied Mosul, its fighters not only burned down the main library, but also used buildings where students had once studied as an arsenal to store weapons and ammunition and a laboratory where Daesh had manufactured raw chemicals. weapons. The lighthouse has been turned into a house of death.

The war has not spared one of my favorite places in Baghdad, al-Mutannabi Street in the heart of the old city. Last year, between August and December, the street, inaugurated by King Faisal in 1932, was modernized and embellished with the aim of launching a cultural renaissance in the Iraqi capital, famous for its poets, painters and novelists until what the American war plunges Iraq into. in 19 years of bloodshed and instability.

While bookstores line both sides of the narrow streets, every Friday booksellers with and without stores have for decades displayed sale books on dirty sheets laid out on the sidewalk. In 2003, a month after the American occupation of Baghdad, I went with a friend to al-Mutannabi Street and found my first book, “The United States and the Palestinian People“, published in Beirut in the 1970s , among those on sale with other titles issued by the same house. I had seen my book in February 2002 before the American attack: It is clear that the Baghdadians were not interested in the wars in Palestine when they expected George W. Bush’s attack on the Iraq. I bought the book in remembrance of al-Mutannabi Street, named after the Abbasid-era poet Tayeb al-Mutannabi whose statue was erected as part of the restoration project.

Although there have been no reports of Russian airstrikes on bookstores and libraries during the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, the slogan that civilized people everywhere should embrace is “Books, not bombs!”

Photo: TNS

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