Mossab Abu Toha has never actually left Gaza, instead devouring books as an escape. Now he is struggling to open the first English-language library in the beleaguered Palestinian territory.
“Send us books in English, new or used,” says the 24-year-old reading enthusiast on his Facebook page.
Abu Toha, like so many Gazans effectively trapped in the Palestinian enclave by Israeli and Egyptian restrictions, dreams of traveling.
“Freedom begins when one frees one’s mind,” said the young graduate in English literature from the Islamic University of Gaza, who shares his passion by teaching Shakespeare at a UN school.
“I have read dozens of books in English, and with them I can travel to every country in the world and through all periods. I feel like I am in another world.”
In a territory where even the delivery of basic necessities is anything but simple, literature is also a victim of politics.
“There are few books in English,” Abu Toha said, and they “arrive well after their publication because of the blockade.”
Even the idea of falling back on electronic versions is problematic.
“The electricity cuts all the time,” said Shadi Salem, who is helping Abu Toha set up the project.
Since the July launch of their “Library & Bookshop for Gaza” page, which has nearly 2,500 followers, the two friends say they have collected more than 200 books, including from American and European donors, as well as $2,000 (1,890 euros).
But delivery has again been an issue, with Israel blocking the arrival of parcels into the Gaza Strip.
The transfer was restored in December, with Abu Toha announcing joyfully on Facebook: “You can now send your books.”
For the time being, the 200 books received and his personal library — about 400 — stand on shelves in the family home in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.
The goal is a thousand more books.
Of all his books he highlighted three from American philosopher Noam Chomsky, who sent them to him personally.
There are 18 libraries in Gaza, with the vast majority of books Arabic.
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