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.
The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has been blamed for a multitude of problems facing the population there: malnutrition, unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water.
Gazan students and educators say that under the Israeli-imposed siege, education is suffering too. The blockade makes it so difficult to bring in books that they are forced to resort to bootlegging and smuggling, they say. The limited supply of original books has driven up costs, making them difficult for most Gazans to afford.
Book smugglers in Gaza are reluctant to disclose details on their routes, fearing ramifications from the Israeli government, which already bombs the Egypt-Gaza tunnels several times a year, and the Hamas government, which has increased its searches at the passenger-only Rafah border crossing, through with retailers also attempt to smuggle goods. The Gazan government considers the tunnels a legitimate trade route, so it allows goods to pass through there.
Gazan education officials assert that the tunnels are key to the education of Gaza’s 500,000 students. Awni Maqayyid, head of the Hamas-run Islamic University’s Central Library, says that “the education system would collapse” without the tunnel industry.
Despite smugglers’ attempts to stock Gaza’s libraries and bookstores – around 5 million textbooks are required per year – Palestinians are still frustrated by the lack of books in Gaza. They hold Israel responsible, arguing that the restrictions on book imports amounts to a censoring of their education.