There should be a mandatory reading assignment for Western journalists on the banality of Israeli evil, the daily indignations Palestinians endure during periods described in the mainstream media as “relative calm.” “Relative calm,” for mainstream Western journalists, is when Jewish-Israelis are not inconvenienced by Palestinian resistance to Israel’s violations of their human rights. It is in such periods of so-called “calm” that Israel expands its illegal settlements, continuing the ethnic cleansing it began in 1948, and conceives of more legislation to disenfranchise the indigenous population, thus furthering the apartheid system it now openly embraces, none of which makes the mainstream news.
For the almost two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli-imposed blockade is now in its tenth year, this column would remind us of how children are studying by candle light, how young men take cold showers because there is no warm water, how untreated sewage occasionally floods the streets, life-saving medicine runs out, and generators are on twenty-two hours a day in hospitals, as overwhelmed doctors and medical staff try to save the lives of infants born pre-term because of their mother’s anemia, a result of the “subsistence diet” imposed by Israel. This column would mention Israeli soldiers shooting at fishermen trying to make a living from their own coastal water, and would name the tens of thousands who are denied permission to leave the Gaza prison, because Israel has placed a strict limit on “humanitarian” cases allowed to escape. This column would not include the extra-judicial assassination of a wheelchair-bound double amputee, or the demolition of the tunnels through which life-saving essentials are smuggled—tunnels not unlike those that allowed European Jews to survive the siege on the Warsaw Ghetto.
One recent manifestation of the banality of evil is the depletion of public libraries in the Gaza Strip, something Mosab Abu Toha made it his mission to redress. At the young age of 25, the English language teacher has founded the “Edward Said Public Library” in Gaza, a small, modest library he hopes will provide the residents of the Strip with a window to the world through literature, mostly in English. He said the idea came to him in 2014, when the english department at his alma mater, the Islamic University of Gaza, was hit by an Israeli missile during Operation Cast Lead. He launched a fundraiser, and received $15,000 in donations in one month, allowing him to rent a small space, build some shelves, and initially stock them with his own books. With the very slight lessening of restrictions on what can enter the blockaded strip, individuals (including Noam Chomsky and Katha Pollitt) have been sending books to Abu Toha, but package delivery is still hit and miss at best.
Most recently, a donor in Canada sent a box of 50 novels to the library, for which they paid $1200 for FedEx in delivery charges. The address which FedEx clearly accepted to deliver to, as evident on the backing label, specifies Gaza as final destination. FedEx subcontracts with a Palestinian company, Wassel, but when Abu Toha inquired about the status of the books, Wassel informed him that it does not deliver to Gaza. Additionally, because of the size of the donation, the books are considered taxable goods, and are now held in Israeli customs. “My friend paid $1200 USD to ship the books to my address and now they [want to] charge me about $700 USD as taxes on goods. The books were a donation. He bought them for $600 USD.”
In the meantime, FedEx Canada has informed Abu Toha that unless he pays the $700 in taxes, the books will be destroyed. But even if he pays the $700 tax, Abu Toha would still need to go to the West Bank and bring the books back to Gaza himself—something he obviously cannot do, because of the blockade. Another option would be for the donor in Canada to pay to have them shipped back. “If my friend won’t cover the cost of returning the books, they will destroy the parcel,” Abu Toha wrote me. (FedEx Canada can be contacted here, and pressured not to destroy the books, when the donor has paid over $1200 to have them delivered).
Abu Toha has a dream, a vision, and determination. His case is one amongst millions, literally, of Palestinians who find every aspect of their daily lives poisoned by Israel. At the larger level, we need to put pressure on the Israeli government to end its occupation and apartheid regime. The best way to accomplish that is through BDS, which has changed the narrative about Zionism, showing it for the racist violent ideology that it is. This discursive change is finally beginning to impact policy, as we now have US politicians supporting a bill that protects Palestinian children’s rights—a breakthrough in the once impenetrable Zionist shield. In the meantime, on the smaller level, we can support the Edward Said Library by putting pressure on FedEx, or by donating to the library (the website has a wish list). Some of the titles Abu Toha hopes to receive include James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and Toni Morrison’s oeuvre, but the library also needs more shelves, more computers, and they would like to be able to afford a larger space.
But for now, Abu Toha’s message is to “please rescue the 50 books.”
Editor’s update: Mosab Abu Toha is now raising money on Indiegogo to fund the library– raising “$15,000 to get the library off the ground–for rent, shelves, tables, chairs, and staff.” That’s a year’s operating expenses in just one month. We know readers will want to help!