A legendary bookshop in Gaza that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike last year reopened on Thursday, lifting spirits from its delighted owner and a large crowd of well-wishers celebrating the moment.
The five-story building, which housed Samir Mansour’s bookstore on the ground floor, was reduced to rubble during the 11-day Israeli airstrike on the besieged Gaza Strip in May last year. The 100,000 books in the store became piles of torn papers, riddled with ash and dust.
“I was devastated when the store was destroyed and our friends and loved ones boosted my morale. But today I was born again, today is a new birthday for me,” he said.
Mansour’s bookstore opened in 2000 in a busy apartment block in Gaza City near three universities and was popular with students and general readers alike. What made it special was that Mansour could purchase any book on demand if it was not available in Gaza’s few libraries.
Gaza has been under a tight Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took control in 2007, and importing specialty goods can pose a particular challenge.
Thanks to generous donations, the store has reopened in a nearby building, this time with more space and a larger, more diverse inventory.
Mansour says the donations came mainly from British activists who launched global fundraisers and secured a book collection larger than what was destroyed.
“Our British brothers and people compensated us with 150,000 books,” Mansour said.
Rays from ceiling spotlights gave a lustrous look to the books, which stood on high-quality wooden shelves. The three-storey bookstore presents children’s books, novels by local, Arabic and international authors as well as business and program guides, among other things. In total, the new store has a collection of 400,000 books.
“The destruction did us no harm. Instead, she made us strong,” Mansour said as dozens of people crowded the store’s entrance during the opening ceremony.
For Yara Eid, who was born the same year the shop opened, the bookshop has provided a glimpse of life beyond Gaza. The blockade makes it extremely difficult for Gaza residents to travel abroad.
“Samir Mansour Bookshop means a lot to me,” said Eid, who said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in the UK. “Without this bookstore I would not have experienced life outside of the Gaza Strip because we are under a blockade.
“As a child,” she added, “my imagination was shaped by these books, which gave me hope that there was another life, not just wars and bloodshed.”
More than 250 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s bombing raid in May, while rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza killed 13.