March 2, 2024

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Gaza’s libraries were destroyed in the war between Israel and Hamas

BEIRUT – Amid the destroyed buildings and thousands of dead in Gaza City, there is another casualty that is often overlooked: the shattered cultural institutions in the besieged enclave, especially its few libraries.

The Gaza municipal library and the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center — which hosted a meeting between President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat 25 years ago — have been bombed and reduced to rubble during nearly two months of war as Israel attempts to destroy the armed Hamas movement. which controls the Gaza Strip.

Monday’s statement said that the occupation aircraft targeted the public library building, turning it into rubble and destroying thousands of books, titles, and documents that record the city’s history and development, in addition to destroying the library’s language courses hall and other library facilities. From the local government, which also described the destruction of the Shawa Center and the municipal printing press.

Municipal authorities described the strikes as an attempt to “spread ignorance in society.” It is not clear when the institutions were destroyed, as many parts of the city have only become accessible again since the cessation of fighting began on 24 November.

The Israeli attack, which focused mainly on Gaza City and the northern half of the Strip, was in response to a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 that left about 1,200 people dead. However, civilians have borne the brunt of the response, with at least 13,300 people killed in the Gaza Strip, while 80 percent of its population has been displaced.

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Amid all this devastation, residents have barely had a chance to come to terms with the loss of the few cultural institutions in the densely populated enclave that locals remember as rare cultural refuges and beacons.

The Israeli army did not immediately respond to questions about the raid.

Pictures taken by the municipality showed the main library building destroyed from the inside, with books scattered on a floor covered in debris and dust, and a few shelves intact.

The library system included the Gaza Municipal Library, in addition to a cultural center and a children’s library. It was a gathering place for events and a place for students, families and writers.

According to the Gaza Municipality website, the library was established in 1999 through a twinning agreement with the French city of Dunkirk and with funding from the World Bank. The library consists of two floors and a basement. His holdings included 10,000 volumes in Arabic, English and French.

The Rashad Shawa Cultural Center and its accompanying Diana Tamari Sabbagh Library, which opened in 1988, are also in ruins. Here, on December 15, 1998, under Clinton’s watch, hundreds of Palestinian fighters voted to abolish the paragraphs of the Palestine Liberation Organization Charter that called for the destruction of Israel. The vote paved the way for a meeting at the Erez crossing between Arafat, Clinton and the young Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time described the PLO vote as “real change, very positive change.”

“The library was a quiet place,” said Abdul Hadi Al-Ajla, a Gaza academic based in Sweden, who described to The Washington Post how he began frequenting the Shawa Center when he was 15 years old. “The center had a quiet cafeteria and the place was always fresh, especially In the summer”.

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Museums, archaeological heritage sites and university campuses in Gaza have been damaged and destroyed in Israeli attacks during the current offensive, according to human rights and cultural heritage groups. Israel said some sites, including the Islamic University of Gaza, were used by Hamas activists.

A survey conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2010 showed that there are 13 operating public libraries in the Gaza Strip. Most libraries in Gaza are poorly equipped, according to a 2020 talk by Gaza-based poet and New Yorker contributor Musab Abu Toha, who founded Gaza’s first English-language library in 2017.

That library, named after the late Edward Said, the Palestinian literary critic and Columbia University professor, began outsourcing many of its volumes. Some were from the private collection of the same name, donated by his widow, Maryam Said, and some funding was received from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen.

There is no information about the current status of the Edward Said Library.

Abu Toha said that the idea for the library first occurred to him in 2014, after he walked among the ruins of the Islamic University in Gaza, which had been bombed during a previous round of Israeli raids.

He noted that Gazans face an uphill battle importing books into the Strip, as shipments cannot go directly to Gaza — which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt — and are instead delivered to the West Bank. In his 2020 talk, Abu Touha He described the situation as: “The head of an American bookstore was asked to travel through Mexico to receive a package in Guatemala.”

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As news spread this week about the damage to the libraries, stunned and grieving residents took to social media to mourn the loss. One user on

Another simply said: Do you know what the Mongols did when they invaded Baghdad? In reference to the dismissal of one of the prominent literary centers in the Islamic world in the thirteenth century.

The Gaza City Municipality called on UNESCO to protect cultural institutions in Gaza, noting that these places are “protected under international humanitarian law.”

UNESCO said it was “deeply concerned about the negative impact that the fighting could have on any cultural heritage in Palestine and Israel, which comes in addition to UNESCO’s concerns before the ongoing fighting regarding the state of conservation of sites in Gaza due to the lack of local resources.” Public policies on heritage and culture,” in a statement to the newspaper.

She added that she urged all parties to respect international law, noting that “cultural sites are civilian infrastructure that cannot be targeted and cannot be used as military sites.”

Aligla said the library “will be missed by the female students who used it as a safe space.” The books could be replaced, he added, “but we also lost a gathering place.”

“Memories cannot be retrieved.”