Tens of thousands of donated books have started arriving at the new location of a Gaza bookstore that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes last year, and owner Samir Mansour now plans to reopen next month.
The two-story Samir Mansour Bookstore, which was reduced to rubble last May, was founded by Palestinian Mansour 22 years ago and was a beloved part of the local community. Its destruction during the 11-day conflict, which killed more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel, sparked a campaign that raised $250,000 (£187,000) to help rebuild it, along with donations 150,000 lbs. The Israeli army said the store was not its target, saying the building that housed it also contained a Hamas facility for weapons production and intelligence gathering.
Mansour is now preparing to reopen as a bookstore and library, in a new location less than 100 meters from the original site. The new building, which cost $340,000, needed to be gutted and renovated, and Mansour spent $70,000 of his personal savings building wooden shelving, tiling, and installing electrical supplies. All funds generated by the campaign, which was launched by human rights lawyers Mahvish Rukhsana and Clive Stafford Smithheaded to the project, with the blockade imposed on Gaza driving up costs.
Rukhsana, an American human rights lawyer working at 3DC in London, said book donations poured in from across the UK, as well as overseas, with the first container of 50,000 books arriving in the Gaza Strip last week. Shipping of the remaining books will follow.
“I was so happy when I saw the first shipment had arrived… I felt like a reborn phoenix,” Mansour said. “I didn’t expect all this support. But it was something beyond imagination and something more than wonderful.
“He lost around 90,000 pounds in the attack and our goal was to collect 100,000,” Rukhsana said. “We were immediately inundated with books and volunteers who wanted to donate time, vans, cargo trucks, money and lots of books.”
Peterborough volunteer Rabea Zia has helped Rukhsana run 70 regional book drives across the UK; there were 20 book drop-off locations in London alone.
“It started in the houses of the volunteers. This became a challenge as garages, kitchens and living rooms were quickly flooded with books. Some people organized walks to restaurants and cafes, which were also quickly flooded and had to be cleaned regularly,” Rukhsana said. “We put out a call for vans. Volunteers borrowed vans and started cleaning houses. Central storage units were rented to accommodate the growing number of books. Our garage at Ascot was quickly filled with around 30,000 books. Another 20,000 came from Scotland. Another 20,000 from Leicester, Manchester, Croydon. And small publishers donated new books.
The lawyer said whenever it becomes too difficult for the volunteers, they will find a solution. “A freight company contacted us via social media and volunteered to put the books on pallets and stack them with forklifts in a warehouse. From there, another wonderful company called Awesome Books offered trucks to pick up from storage locations across the country. They were sorted by gender and packed into storage containers,” she said. “It was difficult due to the Brexit-related truck shortage , but everyone patiently worked together. It was amazing to see how a global community came together and wanted to support this project. Over 4,800 donors donated money from around the world to support his fund. Rukhsana also explained how donors were encouraged to write messages inside the books, leaving their email addresses so the new owners of the books could get in touch if they wished.
The only request Mansour made was for the Harry Potter books, as they are very popular with children in Gaza. Many people bought new Harry Potter boxes for the reader, Rukhsana said, with one volunteer selling cupcakes and pastries for a month to raise money to buy boxes of JK Rowling and Roald Dahl books.
A Santa Barbara man spent more than $300 to ship three boxes of books to the reader, and other books were shipped from Greece, France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, various US cities and Singapore . “There have been several requests to organize book drives internationally. We had to turn down orders because we quickly exceeded our target,” Rukhsana said. “Volunteers worked until 1 a.m. driving and collecting books, then thanked us for the opportunity to get involved in a tangible way.”
The name of the store, when it opens on February 12, will remain the same, Librairie Samir Mansour. “I think the community will support the idea of the new bookstore, especially since it’s close to the same place that was destroyed,” Mansour said. “We are in a very bad economic situation. So we hope for the best and we will see what happens in the future.
Rukhsana said she and the other volunteers were “really proud to see the books now coming to Gaza for people who really need literature and escape.
“When Israeli warplanes bombed this library, it was another attack on the community’s access to knowledge. This campaign was a gesture of solidarity, an attempt to restore dignity and the fundamental right to the book,” she said. “The global outpouring of large-scale support was unexpected. Also unexpected was the intense desire of so many people to get meaningfully involved in solving this problem.