Freeing Palestine One Book at a Time

Nisma Abu Shamala was one of the participants at a Gaza reading event that encourages people of all ages to read. Image Sami Abu Salem

Gazans join the Palestinian readers’ chain

BY Sami Abu Salem

Clutching their books, thick and thin, Gazans, of all ages, gathered at the city’s fishing port for The Palestinian Reader Series, an event launched by a group of women to honor the dream of Bahaa Eliyan, a young Palestinian man killed by the Israeli forces last year.

Remembered by his peers as a well-read artist and activist, 22-year-old Eliyan “had a dream to create the longest chain of readers in Palestine,” says Majdoline Hasouna, one of the event’s organizers.

He participated in launching the Reading Chain around Jerusalem Walls, in the occupied East Jerusalem in 2014, the very first ambitious step toward creating the chain. According to Hassouna, the initiative in Gaza is an extension of that project.

Eliyan, a Jerusalem resident was killed in October after he allegedly attacked an Israeli bus in the city.

Avid readers, scattered along the wharf, some brought their books with them, while others were handed books at the event.

“All those who don’t carry a book, come over here,” shouts Ahmed Qeshta, 27, a member of the Gaza Youth Initiative, (GYI), as he hands out books from a plastic bag.

Qeshta tells Newsweek Middle East that GYI strongly supports events that promote learning and cultural exchange.

“People do not read any more. Instead of carrying only books, people carry smartphones and follow social media,” he adds.

Standing in a long queue, Asrar Jaber, 25, was carrying The Gate of the Sun novel, by renowned Lebanese author Elias Khoury, depicting the plight of the Palestinians who had been expelled from their land.

Jaber says she came to the book reading event because she believes that culture “is a main weapon for getting the national rights.”

“Naji Al Ali, a well-known Palestinian cartoonist who was assassinated in London 1987, fought with his brush; Ghassan Kanafani, the famed Palestinian novelist who was assassinated by Israel in Beirut 1972, fought with his pen,” she says.

Nisma Abu Shammala, 13, believes that reading helps “build her character and enhance her analytical skills.” She was accompanied by her mother, both donning the traditional Palestinian kaffiyeh on their shoulders.

“We must read to know our history and to understand our national problems… television and the Internet are not enough,” says Abu Shammala.

She adds that she respects Eliyan’s initiative and described it as a “unique project that has long-term benefits.”
Iyad Abu Kwaik, 38, says he was thrilled to be part of this activity.

“We will be able to tell readers and writers around the world: Look at Gaza and pay attention, please do not forget about us,” he adds. Educated and cultured people around the world, novelists, playwrights and musicians “are silent,” according to Abu Kwaik.

“They must say something, [to address] the 10-year Israeli siege on Gaza,” Abu Kwaik tells Newsweek Middle East. Aside from honoring Eliyan’s memory, organizers say the event focuses on encouraging people to read.

Event organizer Hassouna says that reading is the first step towards the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinians.

“Reading means knowledge, and knowledge is the first step towards getting rid of the occupation,” she says.

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