You can at one time or another accept, under duress, to live in a neighborhood without bookstores, but in a city without bookstores? No sir ! A town without a bookstore is surely not a town.
Last May, a bomb destroyed the Samir Mansour bookstore, or Mansour’s, as it is called.
You say, so what! Well, you see, for the people of Gaza, Mansour was more than just a brick-and-mortar bookstore where you just went to buy a book on your reading list.
Mansour’s had been, for the past 22 years, an institution, a revered community center where bibliophiles gravitated to peruse its nearly 100,000 collections of titles, each a New World waiting to be discovered by a people unable to travel to the beyond the limits of the densely populated strip of land in which they were sardinized.
And Mansour had been the bookstore where virtually every book in any Gazans home library had been purchased.
On that May day, when this beloved bookstore was hit by a missile that turned it into what everyone thought was forgotten dust, owner Samir Mansour – who at 14 was apprenticed to his father as a bookseller, book collector and book lover – plaintively describes the impact of the disaster on him. ‘It felt like my soul had come out of me’, later adding, ‘We’re going to rebuild it’
Mansour had no way of knowing that the “we” would become people from virtually anywhere in the world.
The obliteration of the building that housed Mansour’s, along with its extensive collection of books, sparked a global campaign by England-based rights activists that generated $250,000 from 4,800 donors around the world. Almost 150,000 books have been donated by people in the UK alone.
According to a report in the Guardian last week, when it was rumored that storing all these books had become a challenge for activists, a freight company, on their own, approached them, via social media and “volunteered to put the books on pallets and stack them with forklifts in a warehouse”. Then another company called Awesome Books offered trucks to pick up the books from all the storage facilities where they were kept across the country.
Harry Potter fans in Palestine
When it was revealed that Mansour had asked for Harry Potter books because they were popular with children in Gaza, many donors went out and bought new Harry Potter boxes to give away, with one volunteer, according to the Gurdian report. , selling homemade products. brownies and cupcakes for an entire month to raise money to buy more JK Rowling books.
A Santa Barbara, California man reportedly spent $300 to ship three boxes of books. More and more books were shipped from the United Arab Emirates, Greece, France, Italy, Singapore and various American cities.
When the new bookstore reopens, in a new building in a new location close to the old site on February 12, its rebirth will not only be a testament to the empathy the global community has for Gazans, but also the character sacred that this community recognizes should grant books – books as the oxygen necessary for the life of the spirit.
And Gazans indeed need books around them as much as they need oxygen to breathe. As Arabs, they are the heirs of a cultural tradition imbued from its historical origins with a sense of the value of the intellect in everyday life. Let’s not forget that the first sentence of the Koran, the sacred text of Muslims around the world, begins with the imperative verb “Read…”
Certainly, the civilizational role that books play in our lives and the intellectual curiosity they arouse in our minds is universal for all cultures of the world.
Precarious societies fear them. Fascist societies burn them. And communist societies feel destabilized by it, because see how the publication of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, in 1957, and the three volumes of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Archipologo of the Gulag, between 1973 and 1978, deeply shook Russia Communist.
Even the liberal society of, say, the United States, which is not known (God forbid!) to fear, burn or be deeply shocked by books, is not immune to the impact of books, especially those written by public intellectuals with a wide readership and an adversarial voice.
Consider, for example, how the transition from left to right, or if you prefer, from radical to conservative, by John Dos Passos in the late 1930s and by Christopher Hitchens soon after — well, almost moments after — the The attacks of September 11 represented a major crisis in the life of this milieu of progressives that we call the intelligentsia.
These miraculous little things we call books can do all that – and more. Thus, deprive a human community of access to the intellectual outpourings it contains, I say, and you deny it its raison d’etre as a human community.
Since book donors to Mansour were encouraged to write messages inside their donated books, including their email addresses, in hopes that the new owners of the books would contact them, I hope shortly after Mansour’s response on Saturday, February 12, I will hear from a fellow bibliophile who had picked up and read the only valuable copy of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye – on my shelf since 1973 – of which I had donated.
As for the message I scribbled on the inside cover page, well, I’m not saying it. It’s between one Holden Caulfield fan and another.
— Fawaz Turki is a Washington-based journalist, scholar, and author. He is the author of The Disherited: Diary of a Palestinian Exile.