His bookshop in ruins, Gazan hopes to rebuild with crowd-funding help

by Reuters
Tuesday, 25 May 2021 08:00 GMT

Palestinian Shaban Esleem collects books from his bookstore which was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza City May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Image Caption and Rights Information

A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $130,000 to help Shaban Esleem rebuild and reopen his destroyed bookshop, but he worries he may never see the money

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, May 25 (Reuters) - Shaban Esleem says his commitment to rebuild his Gaza bookstore after its destruction in an Israeli air strike last week is written in stone.

"I will start all over again. I will begin small and go big," the Palestinian pledged, standing next to the piles of masonry of what was once a four-storey building on Gaza City's Talateen Street.

The structure, he said, housed his Iqra (Read) bookshop - where he sold titles in Arabic and foreign languages - a competitor's book business, a printing works, an apartment and educational and language centres.

Esleem, 33, picked through the piles of stone collecting what books remained to keep as a remembrance, even those that were torn and burnt.

Israel gave advance warning of the air strike, the building's owners said, one of the attacks Israel launched in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza after tensions in Jerusalem triggered cross-border rocket strikes on Israeli towns on May 10.

Eleven days of the worst hostilities in years between Hamas and Israel ended on Friday with a ceasefire, which appears to be holding.

A GoFundMe campaign, begun overseas by a supporter who saw Esleem in a media interview, has raised more than $130,000 to help him rebuild and reopen.

"But I haven't got any of it yet, and it may be difficult to get this amount of money into Gaza," Esleem said, voicing concern that Israel's long-standing blockade of the enclave could make it difficult for him to receive the funds.

Israel cites security concerns for Gaza restrictions that Palestinians call collective punishment.

Ramadan El-Njaily, who owned a business and an apartment in the bombed-out building, placed a sign on the rubble that summed up his despair.

"Roya Print-House, we had a dream here, and they killed it," it read.

Israel says it tried to avoid civilian casualties in targeting militants, including warning when it was about to strike residential buildings that it alleged also had a military use.

Njaily, 35, said he left the apartment two days before it was destroyed, fearing for his life after an Israeli air strike hit the road outside the building.

Now his 3-year-old son is living with a grandmother, and Njaily himself moves from one friend's house to another each day.

"I lost everything," he said.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)