Money and books have been donated in an effort to help rebuild one of Gaza’s largest bookstores, the two storey Samir Mansour, which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes back in May.
The shop was founded 21 years ago by Palestinian Mansour and since then it has become a beloved part of the local community and housed tens of thousands of books. Sadly it was reduced to rubble on the 18th of May during the latest conflict in the region, a conflict that ultimately killed more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
Now though a fundraiser managed by the human rights lawyers Mahvish Rukhsana and Clive Stafford Smith has managed to raise over $200,000 (£141,000) to help rebuild the shop. Tens of thousands of books have also been donated from around the world to allow Mansour to restock his shelves.
Rukhsana said that the response from around the world has been brilliant.
“Dropping bombs on Samir Mansour’s bookshop is not the worst tragedy to have hit the people of Gaza – but this particular air strike targeted access to books. It was an attack on the knowledge and literacy of this community. Samir lost almost 100,000 books and served schoolchildren and adults alike,” she said. “I knew hospital and roads would receive funding, but secondary cultural institutions such as libraries are often overlooked but equally critical to the community.”
The aim of the fundraiser though is not just to replace all 100,000 lost books and rebuild the store, it also aims to help Mansour with his new project: the Gaza Cultural Centre, a large library Mansour wants to build where people can read books without having to pay.
“[In Mansour’s shop], people were allowed to stay, have tea and read his books for as long as they wanted free of charge without an obligation to purchase … he has decided to use all gently used and some new books to create a true library,” she said.
In a written statement released to the press Mansour said his “heart was burning” when he learnt that missiles had destroyed his beloved bookstore.
“The Israeli airstrikes bombed half of the building and my bookshop was in the other half. I wished they would stop … My feet took me a few steps forward, towards the bookshop. The last missile came and destroyed the building,” he said.
“It was six in the morning. I didn’t know what to do. I started searching among the rubble for anything related to my library. But everything was under the rubble.”
He searched the rubble for hours trying to find anything that he could salvage before returning home. “I sat thinking about why my shop was bombed,” he said. “I did not publish, write, or attack any country or person in my life. I did not spread hatred but spread culture, science and love. I did not find answers to my questions.” But he promised himself that he would “rebuild all over again, no matter what it took from me”.
The UK-based online children’s bookseller Books2Door has donated 1,000 books to the campaign with the company founder Abdul Thada describing the situation as heart-breaking.
“Without any hesitation I knew we could help,” he said. “We were kindly informed by the fundraisers that Samir had a diverse, eclectic collection, so we hope we have done him proud.”
Rukhsana and Stafford Smith have said that all donations will help the bookshop “rise as a phoenix from the ashes”.
“With this kind of support now all we need is some humanitarian cooperation from the Israeli and Gaza authorities,” they said.