While travelling may not be on the cards for those living in the Gaza Strip, it has not stopped them from finding their own ways to discover the world beyond.
For twenty-four year old, Mosab abu Toha, found that the best way to overcome the eleven year long siege is by collecting, reading and sharing English books with fellow readers in Gaza.
The Book Shop for Gaza is a unique project that began with Mosab, who called on people around the world to contribute what they can and donate their books, whether new or used, in order to help him set up the first English public library in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Posting on Facebook, Mosab wrote, “You can help establish the library by either donating books (new and used books) or by donating money.”
Gaza’s first English library already boasts over 600 books, most of which Mosab had collected previously, and 200 of which were donated by Mosab’s friends.
From literature, to poetry, academic, or political, Gaza’s first library promises to open doors of freedom and intellectuality to those living in Gaza. Mosab dreams of building his collection and adding a thousand more to it.
Many libraries in the Gaza Strip, including Mosab’s university library, were destroyed by Israel during the wars, and constant power shortages mean that Palestinians are unable to rely on electronic books. The postal system is not without its difficulties however, during June to December, Israel suspended the service to Gaza, however it is now back up and running.
Talking about his main purpose for setting up the library, Mosab said that his project aims at establishing a library that connects Gazans who have been under long-term siege with their intellectual counterparts all over the world. The library project also seeks to build bridges between different cultures and races.
“The library will help young people in Gaza grow into better individuals that serve their local community, as well as the human race,” the enthusiastic book collector added.
While available to all ages, the library specifically aims to help young students, lecturers and researchers in the hope that they can continue developing their intellect and skills.
In addition to the books collected from Europe and America, the library will also have a section for electronic sources available to all where possible. “Inside the library, seminars will be organised, lectures delivered by international guests and other activities,” explains Mosab.
Mosab relies heavily on Facebook, Twitter, and the library’s official site to promote the library in the strip.
“We’ll make use of university platforms, to help students and professors know about it. We also hope to cooperate with other Arabic libraries, so that they can direct English readers to us.”
“If you want to be a great writer, you need to be a great reader. If you want to be a great reader, you need to have the stomach to read everything others write. Reading is where you would be able to benefit from others’ strength and learn from their weakness.”
Like everyone residing in Gaza, Mosab’s message to the world is that people need to read before they write and listen before they speak in order to understand.
Shadi Salem, the operations manager, explained that the library hopes to give an opportunity for readers to share their views and experiences in English, while opening a channel for communication with other English speakers.
“The message is to put Gazans in a place where they can read, write and reflect on their life in English.”
Mohammed holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of, Still Living There, a book documenting Gaza’s last war and its aftermath.