A library is usually thought to act as a reference service, a portal to boundless knowledge, or the center of academia. Yet, for  24 year old Gazan Mossab Abu Toha, a library is a refuge. Books are an escape from the trauma in besieged Gaza. In the world’s “open prison”, freedom is not obtainable, except through books. This realization led Abu Toha to crowdfund Gaza’s first English library.

Libraries in Gaza are necessary, as they are deteriorating from war in recent years.

But why create a library in English? Books in English are a rare commodity, as Abu Toha clarifies to Al-Jazeera:

“Whenever I go to a bookshop or library, I rarely see English books, especially books by Edward Said, Noam Chomsky – these intellectuals who write in English,”

As English Literature graduate from the Islamic University of Gaza, Abu Toha has devoured the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov,Chomsky, and Said, among many others .

Since the July launch of the “Library & Bookshop for Gaza” Facebook page, Abu Toha has collected more than 200 books, including from American and European donors. He has also collected $2,000.

He urges donors to send books in English, either new or used.

This flourishing initiative has received positive feedback from within his community and from intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky!

Al- Jazzera reports that Chomsky has lauded the approach : “It’s a wonderful idea”.

The scholar has even personally donated some books to Abu Toha.  “I did send several books … I am now collecting others.”

A signed volume by Noam Chomsky. The scholar has donated to this cause. Credits: AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed
A signed volume by Noam Chomsky. The scholar has donated to this cause. Credits: AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed

This project has books  flooding from all over the world, opening a window into caged Gaza.  Abu Toha’s initiative is particularly significant because political obstacles hinder the access to books in Gaza.  Politics infiltrates everything, even the realm of reading.

“For 10 years, we were going to Cairo to purchase books, but for the past five years, we can’t go because of the security situation and because of the bad relations between Hamas and the Egyptian regime,” said the university’s library director, Mamdouh Firwana.

Power cuts are frequent. This means that electronic books are not reliable.

The Israeli postal service is now running again. The postal service was suspended to Gaza from last June to December. Despite the long waiting period, the books eventually reach their destination in Beit Lahia, Gaza.

Despite these bumps in the road, Abu Tohan and his team remain determined to accomplish their ultimate goal. They aspire to achieve mental freedom within this soon to be sanctuary. He says,

“Freedom is a state of mind. [With books], you’re liberating yourself by living in an imaginary world where there are no boundaries … If I choose to be free, I can be free through my writing, through speaking.”  

As the esteemed writer Angela Clarke once wrote,

“A library is not just about books: it’s also a place for the vulnerable”

Consider donating to this blooming cause and help Gazans smile 🙂




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