Abu-Toha grew up in Gaza, surrounded by the devastation wreaked by four major military assaults, compounded by the eleven-year old siege on the Strip. Seeking to escape the physical restrictions imposed by the siege, he developed a deep passion for books, and a love for sharing the unique pleasure bibliophiles feel when surrounded by shelves lined with these openings into the wide world beyond the walls–whatever these walls are. In the Gaza Strip, libraries are even more important, as they break the cultural siege imposed by Israel, and cheer children up, with fun educational activities.
Abu-Toha started collecting books shortly after the English Department at his alma mater, the Islamic University in Gaza, was bombed during Israel’s 2014 “Cast Lead” assault, and in 2017, he fulfilled his dream by opening the doors of the library to the public.
The Edward Said Public library would not exist without donations, and many have stepped up, from Haymarket Books, to Edward Said’s widow, Mariam, and hundreds who have pitched it with whatever donations we could make. Noam Chomsky has endorsed it as a project which “merits strong support from everyone concerned with justice & basic human rights.”
Since it first opened its doors in 2017, the library has hosted a book club that meets twice a month, English language conversation classes, and is regularly frequented by schoolchildren who use its reference section for their research. Having print books is especially important in Gaza, Abu-Toha told Mondoweiss, as the chronic power shortage makes it hard to charge electronic devices for e-books or internet research.
Abu-Toha added that he hopes to expand the library to include a section for music and the arts, where emerging artists can both practice their art and occasionally perform to library patrons. And he is looking into forming a writers’ workshop, for young writers in Gaza.
The Edward Said Library needs us again, urgently, if they are to continue offering these wonderful opportunities to Gaza’s youth. Please donate what you can. It can buy a box of crayons, coloring books, books on decolonial struggle, it can help pay the rent.
It can lessen the suffocation of Gaza, until the siege is lifted.