Finding treasures in rubble. Photos by AFP
While digging through the rubble of his university's arts department after Israel's 2014 assault, Mosab Abu Toha, a young Gazan with a degree in English literature, came upon an intact copy of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. Like his neighbors, Abu Toha has remained trapped in Gaza by the Israeli travel ban, but he has found solace and liberation in reading, arguing "freedom is a state of mind." Discovering the Norton made him want to give that gift to others who have lost so much, to give them "an imaginary world where there are no boundaries." Thus was born his idea of starting an English-and-Arabic-language library and book shop in Gaza City.
Today, surviving in the rubble of the open-air prison that is Gaza are only about a dozen public libraries from what used to be over 40; most of the donated books contained therein are in languages Gazans don't speak, and they total just 70,000 for a besieged populace of over 1.8 million. Abu Toha and his friend Shafi Salem have now collected over 600 books, from Melville to Chomsky to Said to Tolstoy - which live in his apartment. His dream is to set up a library in its own building along with a book store and coffee shop, the sort of cultural pleasure we take for granted but almost unimaginable in Gaza. With the support of Noam Chomsky and other progressives, he continues to get books and raise money on Facebook and Indiegogo. His wish list of over 300 books - Dickens, Plato, Faulkner, Marx, Cervantes, Woolf, Dr. Seuss - is here. Above it is a quote: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies." Help Gazans do it.