'Destruction Made Us Stronger': Iconic Gaza Bookstore Reopens Months After Israeli Strike

'I was devastated when the shop was destroyed and our friends and loved ones have boosted my morale. But today I was born again, today is a new birthday for me'

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Women browse bookshelves at the Samir Mansour Bookstore during the re-opening ceremony in Gaza City, Thursday
Women browse bookshelves at the Samir Mansour Bookstore during the re-opening ceremony in Gaza City, ThursdayCredit: Adel Hana /AP

An iconic Gaza bookstore destroyed in an Israeli airstrike last year reopened on Thursday, lifting the spirits of its ecstatic owner and a large crowd of well-wishers celebrating the moment.

The five-story building that housed Samir Mansour’s bookstore on its ground floor was reduced to rubble during the 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers in May. The 100,000 books at the shop became piles of torn papers mired in ash and dust.

“I was devastated when the shop was destroyed and our friends and loved ones have boosted my morale. But today I was born again, today is a new birthday for me," he said.

Samir Mansour, owner of the eponymous bookstore poses on the rubble of the bookshop after it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City in MayCredit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

Opened in 2000 on a busy Gaza City block near three universities, Mansour’s bookstore was popular with students and general readers alike. What made it special was that Mansour could acquire any book on demand if it was unavailable in Gaza's few libraries.

Gaza has been under a tight Israel-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control in 2007, and importing specialized goods can be especially challenging.

With the help of generous donations, the store reopened in a nearby building, this time with more space and a larger, diverse inventory.

Mansour says donations came mostly from British activists who launched worldwide fundraising campaigns and secured a book collection larger than the one that was destroyed.

“Our British brothers and people have compensated us with 150,000 books,” Mansour said.

Beams from spotlights in the ceiling gave a glossy look to the books that stood on premium wood shelving. The three-story bookstore showcases children’s books, novels by local, Arab, and international authors, and business and programming guides, among other entries. In total, the new store has a collection of 400,000 books.

People browse bookshelves at the Samir Mansour Bookstore during the re-opening ceremony in Gaza City, ThursdayCredit: Adel Hana /AP

“Destruction didn't hurt us. Instead, it made us strong," Mansour said as dozens of people crowded the entrance of the store during the opening ceremony.

For Yara Eid, who was born the same year the store opened, the bookstore has provided a glimpse of life beyond Gaza. The blockade makes it extremely difficult for Gazans to travel abroad.

“Samir Mansour Bookstore means a lot to me,” said Eid, who said she plans to study for a master's degree in Britain. “Without this bookstore, I would not have known life outside Gaza because we are under a blockade.

“As a child,” she added, "my imagination was built from these books, which gave me hope that there is another life, not only wars and bloodshed.”

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