When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Sources

A Young Palestinian's Literary Dream: The First English Library In Gaza

Mosab Abu Toha has found a way to free himself — through books
Mosab Abu Toha has found a way to free himself — through books

GAZA CITY — Escaping the besieged Gaza Strip, often described as "the world's largest open-air prison," is a nearly impossible dream for many of its two million residents. But 24-year-old Mosab Abu Toha has found a way to free himself — through books.

"Freedom is a state of mind. With books, you're liberating yourself by living in an imaginary world where there are no boundaries. If I choose to be free, I can be free through my writing, through speaking," Abu Toha says.

As an English literature graduate, he has a thirst for books that has been difficult to quench in Gaza, where new English books are hard to find. Downloading PDF files is not a great alternative as Gaza suffers from frequent, lengthy power cuts.

"Whenever I go to a bookshop or library, I rarely see English books especially books by Edward Said, Noam Chomsky — these intellectuals who write in English," Abu Toha said, noting that translations into Arabic take about three years.

By relying on friends from abroad to send him books over the years, he has amassed a substantial collection on the shelves of his third-floor apartment in Beit Lahia.

By delving into the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Paine, Orwell, Hemingway, Huxley, Finkelstein, Chomsky and Said — and by writing stories and poems of his own — Abu Toha can, at least for a little while, escape the confines of Gaza.

Now he is trying to take that further and share these works throughout the besieged territory. After the 2014 war, as he was rummaging through the rubble of his university's bombed arts department, he found a survivor — the Norton Anthology of American Literature, and an idea was born.

Abu Toha realized that Gaza needed a safe home for English books and a space where people could come to read and socialize rather than hang out in cafes or watch TV. He decided to open Gaza's first public library of English books.

He set up a Facebook page last spring calling for people worldwide to donate books. So far, he has collected more than 100, including a few autographed books by Chomsky himself. He is also collecting donations to rent out a space for the library, where he hopes to host lectures by international guests.

"It's a wonderful idea," Chomsky told reporters via email. "I did send several books … I am now collecting others."

The Israeli postal service suspended its service to Gaza from June to December but it's now running again. Although it takes a while, the books eventually reach their destination in Beit Lahia.

Leroi O'Picasso, a history teacher from Chicago, said that he mailed some books to Abu Toha after seeing a photograph of him holding a book in the midst of a bombed-out library.

"The image reminded me of others I had seen that depicted a Nazi book burning, only on a scale of our current time," O'Picasso said.

"Mosab's request also struck me as an extremely urgent one, especially after reading reports of kids in Gaza suffering from PTSD. I am not a doctor; I cannot prescribe pills or therapy. I can send books because some contain ideas of hope or share narratives of the struggles in life. It's a way to tell a kid that in no way are you alone."

Supporters can send their purchased books with free shipping through the website Better World Books, or via snail mail, which can often cost around $100.

The goodwill of strangers is what amazes Abu Toha the most.

"It's expensive to send. I wonder how these people can afford to send their booksto Palestine, even though they don't know me personally nor do they know Palestinians. So they're good people — I respect them," he said.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Palestinian Museum, 21 libraries of the 41 that initially stood in Gaza closed over the years and seven others were destroyed in the 2014 Israeli assault.

The Shujayea Club Library lost all of its 6,000 books during the war, while 10,000 books were destroyed at Beit Hanoun's library in northeastern Gaza.

In the libraries that are still functioning, the books are mostly outdated and opening hours are usually only until 3 pm.

University libraries also struggle to provide updated books to their students. The Islamic University of Gaza has not been able to import any new books in Arabic since the Egyptian military took over in 2013.

"For 10 years, we were going to Cairo to purchase books but for the past five years we can't go because of the security situation and because of the bad relations between Hamas and the Egyptian government," said the university's library director, Mamdouh Firwana.

When books in Arabic are ordered online through the Nile and Euphrates website, the Arabic equivalent of Amazon, the books never arrive, Firwana said. English books purchased on Amazon eventually arrive, but owing to financial difficulties the number they can afford is limited.

Abu Toha is determined to keep the books coming, noting that they serve as a vital lifeline to the outside world and a way to connect with others.

"Books are very important. We can learn about other cultures, how other people think, how we can communicate with them, how we can understand them," Abu Toha said.

"Language is what makes us all human. We all have languages; we use our mouths, our minds to communicate, so there is something common between us. It's books."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest