Donations of money and books from around the world have flooded in to help rebuild one of Gaza’s largest booksellers, the two-storey Samir Mansour bookshop, which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes in May.
Founded 21 years ago by Palestinian Mansour, the shop was a much-loved part of the local community and contained tens of thousands of books in various languages covering everything from philosophy and art history to fiction and children’s books. It was reduced to rubble on 18 May, during the 11-day conflict that killed more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
Now a fundraiser managed by human rights lawyers Mahvish Rukhsana and Clive Stafford Smith has raised more than $200,000 (£141,000) to help rebuild the shop, while tens of thousands of donated books have been sent from all over the world to help Mansour restock.
Rukhsana said the response from the international community had been overwhelming.
“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,” said Rukhsana. “I knew hospital and roads would receive funding, but secondary cultural institutions such as libraries are often overlooked but equally critical to the community.”
Rukhsana said they are aiming to replace all of Mansour’s 100,000 books and rebuild his bookshop. They also aim to help him establish a new project: the Gaza Cultural Centre, which would be a new library next door, from which readers could borrow books without paying.
“[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 comment to the Guardian, Mansour said his “heart was burning” when he realised missiles had hit the building containing his shop.
“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 for an hour as he tried to make sense of what had happened, before going 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 vowed that he would “rebuild all over again, no matter what it took from me”.
UK-based online children’s bookseller Books2Door has donated 1,000 books to the campaign to rebuild Mansour’s shop, with founder Abdul Thadha describing the situation as devastating.
“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 said the donations would help the bookstore “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 added.
A ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian militants was agreed on 21 May. But Israel launched further airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on 17 June, in response to Palestinian militants launching incendiary balloons into Israel. This came after Israel allowed far-right Jewish nationalists, some of whom chanted “Death to Arabs”, to march through Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem after the ceasefire.