The explosion delayed Mosab Abu Toha’s college graduation. In the summer of 2014 a bomb tore through the Islamic University of Gaza, his alma mater, reducing its English department to shattered concrete and dust.
Abu Toha, an English major and Anglophile, raced to the site to save what he could. “The books were one of the casualties,” he recalled. “I was able to remove ‘The Norton Anthology of American Literature’ from under the rubble.”
But the destruction of the Israel-Gaza Strip conflict didn’t end there. During the several weeks of fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas, another bomb from an Israeli fighter plane — dropped in response to shelling and mortar attacks from Gaza, Israeli officials said — damaged Abu Toha’s house. Three rooms “had their walls opened up like a window that cannot be closed,” he said, “and in one of those rooms was my home library.”
Determined to rebuild his treasured archive, Abu Toha, currently a Harvard Scholar at Risk fellow, turned to the internet, soliciting donations from friends and strangers. Then, as the volumes poured in, an idea began to take shape. Soon he was asking people to contribute books to the first English-language public library in the Gaza Strip, where books, particularly those written in English, can be hard to find. (According to one report, two public libraries have been completely destroyed; five public libraries partially destroyed; and 175 school libraries and 85 private libraries either fully or partially destroyed during the conflict.) In 2017, Abu Toha’s library opened its doors.