Joy as Gaza bookshop destroyed by Israeli air strikes reopens

A Palestinian attends the reopening of the new Samir Mansour bookshop after it was destroyed during last year (AFP)

Nagham Mohanna

The National  /  February 18, 2022

Book lovers flock to the sparkling new Samir Mansour bookshop.

bookshop that was completely destroyed in Gaza’s May 2021 war has been rebuilt and opened its doors to customers on Thursday, just metres from its original site.

Dancers performed the dabke as the doors opened, with happy shoppers streaming in to see the new-look shop — a phoenix from the ashes of Gaza’s most recent war.

The new Samir Mansour Bookshops span two floors and contain more than 300,000 tomes on topics including culture, education, recreation, religion and legal matters.

They are split over three stores — one for children, one for fiction and another for English-language books.

The 2021 war between Israel and Gaza lasted 11 days. Israeli air strikes killed more than 250 people in Gaza and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Thirteen people were killed in Israel.

Back then, rebuilding the 22-year-old bookshop seemed like an empty dream.

Photos of the rubble-strewn remains of the shop, with torn and dusty books littering the ground, were beamed around the world as a symbol of how much the war was costing Palestinians.

But hope sprang from the outrage.

Samir Mansour, the bookshops’ owner, said a fundraising operation by a British group called 3DC brought in donations from all over the world, which he has added to by buying more books to sell.

He said 50,000 books had been donated so far, but getting them into Gaza past Israeli authorities had been an extremely arduous process.

“Because of the siege, the books take one month to reach Gaza instead of one week and this cost us more,” Mr Mansour told The National.

“The language of the books that are donated is English. There are some types of books we were in need of and they managed to send them to us, like the Harry Potter novels.”

Human rights Lawyers Mahvish Rukhsana and Clive Stafford Smith led the campaign but could not make it to the colourful reopening.

“The blockade and border restrictions made that difficult. However this beautiful new library and books are a testament that our friends in Gaza are never alone,” the pair said in a statement.

Inside the bookshop, the books about the boy wizard sit next to books about Marie Antoinette and Nicholas Sparks’s novels.

“I am so excited and happy with the reopening of the bookshop,” Yasmeen Nezar, 23, told The National.

Yasmeen used to visit the old bookshop because it was next to the university compound where she studied.

Unable to travel to Cairo for its international book fair, Yasmeen scrolled through videos of the event to see if she could get some of the books in Gaza.

“Today I found those books inside Samir’s bookshop, and I am really happy that we don’t have to travel to buy books now,” she said.

Mr Mansour said the previous bookshop held about 100,000 books, and its destruction cost him about $700,000. He decided one month after the shop was destroyed to reopen it.

The loss of the store was not just a tragedy for book lovers and Mr Mansour. It also served as a publisher and distributor for works by Palestinian writers.

Novelist Noor Abu Shaban, 31, perused the shelves in the gleaming shop until she found her book, Dream Wings, published by Mr Mansour’s company.

“I am happy to see my book on the bookshop’s shelves again,” Abu Shaban said. “My book was published a year ago, and was inside the previous bookshop that was destroyed.”

Mr Mansour, who refused to ask for any compensation after the destruction of the bookshop, said he was ready to publish any writer from Gaza.

“I encourage the readers to read more and to become a writer,” he said.

Nagham Mohanna in Gaza