Dreams of bookstore owner in Gaza buried in rubble
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)
For decades, it was the perfect place to buy books in the blockaded Gaza Strip, from school texts to the Koran to Arabic translations of classics of European literature.
But last Tuesday, owner Samir al-Mansour watched in disbelief as the bookstore and publishing house he had devoted his life to go up in smoke.
“Forty years of my life were wiped out in less than a second,” said the man in his 50s, a cigarette between his fingers, staring at a pile of crushed concrete, paper and plastic chairs.
“There are 100,000 books under this rubble,” he said.
At around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Mansour was at his home watching television when the channel announced that the Israeli Air Force was about to strike the building housing his bookstore.
Mansour rushed forward, but stopped some 200 meters (220 meters) from the building, just in time to see a missile wiping out his life’s work.
The latest deadly clashes lasted for 11 days and saw Israel launch airstrikes in response to a barrage of rockets from Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other Islamist groups.
“I have nothing to do with an armed group, a political faction,” Mansour told AFP.
“It’s an attack on culture.”
– ‘Never happened before’ –
Mansour started working in his father’s bookstore in the 1980s when he was only 14, then took over in 2000 and quickly branched out into publishing.
As rescuers continue to search for bodies and survivors in the rubble after the military conflict, Mansour mourned all he had lost.
Copies of Islamic religious texts, children’s picture books and a copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky were buried in the rubble.
Israeli strikes on Gaza since May 10 have killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injured more than 1,900 people, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 12 in Israel, including an Arab-Israeli child and teenager, an Israeli soldier, an Indian and two Thai nationals, doctors said. Some 357 people in Israel were injured.
There is controversy over how many people killed in Gaza were fighters and how many were civilians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli bombing campaign had killed “more than 200 terrorists” in Gaza.
Mansour said he had lived through two Palestinian uprisings and three wars in Gaza.
“But that had never happened, my bookstore was never destroyed,” he said.
His son-in-law Montasser Saleh had arrived in Gaza from Norway to visit family just before the conflict began and was with him when his life was turned upside down.
“We were at home, watching TV,” Saleh said.
– ‘More than a bookstore’ –
He recounted how on Al Jazeera TV station “they said there had been a warning shot on the building containing the bookstore”.
He too said they immediately rushed to the building.
“Samir wanted to go get some papers, his computer, but he was too scared to go in and be hit by a missile, so we stayed outside,” he said.
Mosaab Abu Toha, poet and founder of the Edward Said library started after the Gaza war in 2014, said the Gaza Strip had lost “one of its main cultural resources”.
“Mansour was more than a bookstore,” he says. “It was a publishing house that published writers from Gaza.
“The books were printed in Egypt – some to return to Gaza, but others to stay there and be distributed throughout the Arab world.
“It was a way to lift the siege on Gaza through literature,” he said of the blockade of Palestinian territory in place since 2007.
For readers in Gaza, the publishing house had printed around 1,000 copies of works by local authors such as Ghareeb Askalani or Yusri al-Ghoul.
Mansour is not the only book or stationery store destroyed in the latest Israeli bombing campaign.
Nearby, Iqraa was also leveled, and the Al-Nahda stationery and bookstore were reduced to a pile of pulverized cinder blocks.
In front of what remains of Al-Nahda, a poster assured loyal customers that it would reopen soon.
“Ideas don’t die,” he said.
© 2021 AFP