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Demolished Gaza library reopens after Sheikha Budour's support

A flashy signboard at the celebration site read: “Like a phoenix, we rose from the ashes."



Supplied photos
Supplied photos
by

Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Fri 25 Feb 2022, 12:57 PM

Last updated: Sat 26 Feb 2022, 8:40 AM

A well-loved library in Gaza that was demolished in 2021 has re-opened with great fanfare and at triple its original size.

Samir Mansour’s Library, a community favourite rose from the ashes with huge support from Sharjah’s Sheikha Budour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and founder and CEO of the UAE-based Kalimat Group, who donated sales proceeds of her children’s book World Book Capital to help rebuild the bookstore.

Reconstruction efforts began shortly after images of the demolished library went viral on social media, sparking global fundraising campaigns. Sheikha Budour was among the earliest supporters.

“It feels like I’m reborn," Palestinian Publisher Samir Mansour, the library’s owner, told Khaleej Times over the phone from Gaza a week after the library’s opening.

The grand opening of the library hosted large crowds from the Gaza community in a celebration that blasted with Dabka performances, food and music.

Visitors flooded the library to get a long-awaited glimpse of the stacked book shelves that surrounded every corner of their sight.

A flashy signboard at the celebration site read, “Like a phoenix, we rose from the ashes."

Beyond the unwavering passion for books, Samir Mansour Library's return was a symbol of Gaza's resistance.

“People of all ages were eagerly waiting for this moment. They were yearning to buy books and explore the library in its new look. People's excitement made me realize that this is real, and made me even more determined to continue my mission,” said the 58-year-old.

Founded in 2000, Samir Mansour Library housed over 100,000 books worth $700,000 (Dh2.5 million) in various languages before it was reduced to rubble in an airstrike on May 18.

A few meters away from its original site, the library and bookshop merged into a three-storey facility, spanning over 1,000 square metres, stacked with 300,000 books in various languages covering science, philosophy, self-help, art, history, fiction, novels and poetry.

The library is divided into three sections - English literature, fiction and children’s corner.

Within its first week, the new library received hundreds of visitors, majority of whom wanted to explore the site as much as buy books.

Mansour said Sheikha Budour’s “major financial support” was a major factor that brought the library back to life.

Other support came from the Arab Publisher’s Association, Egyptian Publishers Association and the British group 3DC, led by two human rights lawyers, who launched an online campaign that collected 100,000 books in English.

The father of six is now in the process of translating prominent Western titles, including Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Despite border restrictions and costly imports, Mansour said he is adamant on growing his large collection of books.

Stronger determination

Mansour has returned with a greater mission to expand his contribution to the community and make reading an indispensable part of their lifestyle.

The bookstore will be a place for entertainment - not just a selling point for book lovers.

Guests have a seating area where they can explore and delve into different titles before buying their selected books. A photography booth has been installed for book lovers to make memories in the library.

The $5,500 annual Samir Mansour Book Award has launched to reward three authors in the categories of short stories, novels and children’s literature.

A Reading Challenge, inspired by the UAE’s pan-Arab reading competition, will be held across schools in Gaza to reward winning students with up to $100 for reading and summarizing books.

Advancing children’s literature in Palestine at large is also at the centre of Mansour's priorities for the next phase to nurture a young generation of readers.

People in Gaza who cannot afford to buy books will receive their copies for free.

Mansour’s calling is now clearer than ever before: encourage the people of Gaza to never stop reading.“I want to enrich the cultural scene in Gaza, develop literary talents, give voice to our authors in global markets and inspire them to never stop writing.”

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As a publisher, he vowed to defy all obstacles facing Palestinian authors in getting their books read abroad through different exhibitions running across the world.

“The Palestinian literature remains and will keep growing,” said Mansour.

sherouk@khaleejtimes.com


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