Under Israeli blockade of Gaza, books are a rare, cherished commodity
Israel does not explicitly ban importing books to Gaza, but the blockade makes it extraordinarily difficult to do so. The shortage amounts to a kind of censorship, Gazans say.
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Zeyad Thabit, deputy minister for education in Gaza, claims that the Gaza Strip has been unable to acquire school textbooks via Israel since 2007. Mr. Thabit (whose jurisdiction does not include those schools run by the United Nations refugee agency) says the requests were made but were turned down.Skip to next paragraph
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“We tried many times since the siege began to get textbooks in, making sure that we only ask for plain academic books.” When that failed, Thabit says, “We started printing and photocopying books. But no paper is entering Gaza from Israel to allow the Ministry of Education to print textbooks, so all paper enters via the tunnels from Egypt.”
Israel's Maj. Inbar explained that Israel transfers books to Gaza through the Palestinian Authority or, in the case of schools run by the United Nations refugee agency, via the UN. As a result, most Gazans have no influence over what books are sent to the besieged territory.
If Hamas is so bothered by the existence of Israel, “then Hamas can take their books through Rafah," Inbar says.
Another kind of 'censorship'
But many Gazan students, unable to buy the books they want, view the lack of books as amounting to censorship, regardless of whether it is intentional or merely an unintended side effect of policies.
Rana Baker, a business student who also blogs about Palestinian social and political issues, considers the lack of political and historical books in Gaza censorship and an infringement on her right to education.
“The books at my university are old, and it doesn’t have the kinds of books that I like to read: books that speak about Palestine, its culture, refugees, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid," she says.
“Regardless of whether they censor books coming in or not, in a country that's not under siege, you can go into a bookshop and buy a book without having to smuggle into the country. That itself is censorship."
The Gaza branch manager of an international mail courier, who refused to give his name, insists that the lack of political books entering Gaza is deliberate.
“I’ve worked at the Karam Abu Salam (Keren Shalom) goods crossing between Gaza and Israel for ten years and I know what is prohibited,” he explained. “Books related to politics or movements are forbidden. Also forbidden are images of violence, or anything that we call ‘resistance,' but Israel deems as 'terrorism'."
However, it doesn't seem to be a blanket restriction. To test it, this reporter sent a copy of The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finklestein, which argues that Israel has exploited the issue of the Holocaust for political ends, from Egypt to the Gaza Strip via the courier Aramex in May 2012. It was not confiscated and arrived in Gaza within 20 days.
But last year, Pam Bailey, a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., tried to mail nine books to a friend in Gaza via the shipping courier DHL. “The books were a mix of novels and histories of Palestine,” recalled Ms. Bailey. "I had been told that although some items were banned altogether, papers [and therefore books] were ok."
"Four days later, however, the package was returned as ‘not deliverable’," she says. DHL refused to offer a reason.
Inbar suggested that Gazans can request a book by ordering it from abroad and requesting it be sent to Gaza by courier, but this is not usually an option for average Gazans, 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line, according to Israeli human rights organization B’tselem.
Jehad A., who works for a Gaza-based think tank and refused to give his full last name, believes that the inconsistent import rules, which go far beyond textbooks, are a destabilization tactic.
“If people are living in a stable situation, they will behave stable. But if their situation is unstable, that causes the attacks that you see in the streets, the recklessness and radicalization. Things here are not stable. They fluctuate and the goal is to isolate Gaza because the most critical impact of the siege is the psychological one.”