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Israel-Gaza: Huge fundraising effort seeks to get bombed bookshop rebuilt

Shaaban Aslem's Iqraa al-Jadeed store was turned into rubble by Israeli jets. Now, over $130,000 has been raised to revive it
Shaaban Aslem observes the aftermath of Israeli air strikes and the impact on his book store (Rakan Abed El Rahman/MEE)

Since 2016, a small but popular bookshop, much loved by locals, has been hidden away on one of Gaza’s narrow streets. 

For its owner Shaaban Aslem, Iqraa al-Jadeed (New Read) was a dream come true, and the product of years of hard work.

On Monday, Aslem’s dream was turned to rubble, when Israeli jets pummelled his store during an 11-day bombing campaign that came to an end on Friday morning. “I kept building it up, book by book, until it was complete," Aslem told Middle East Eye. "The bookshop supported my family, and my extended family, around 22 people.” 

A video of Aslem tearfully describing the sacrifices he made to open his shop in front of its wreckage quickly went viral this week, gaining the attention of thousands of people globally.

Kitam Tamimi, a student from New Jersey, was one of those who was moved by the video of Aslem. 

Gaza’s largest bookstore destroyed by Israeli airstrike
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“I was on Twitter following the news in Gaza when someone had posted the video of Shaaban tearfully explaining what happened to his dream," Tamimi told MEE.

"Shaaban’s tears broke my heart and I knew there had to be something I could do to help,” 

Within hours of seeing the video, Tamimi had found a way to contact Aslem and on Wednesday set up a GoFundMe fundraising page in an effort to help him with money to restore his book store. 

“Someone on Twitter had linked to his Facebook page, so I messaged him on there and asked to Facetime him for his permission to create a fundraiser. He was overwhelmed that myself and so many others wanted to help him,” Tamimi said. 

The initial target for the page was $60,000. But as news of the fundraising page spread and donations poured in, Tamimi increased the target, hoping to raise even more for Aslem. 

In one day, over $130,000 has been pledged. 

“He’s definitely excited, his book store was not only his dream but his source of income too,” she added. 

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The bookshop was beloved by locals in Gaza (Screengrab/Instagram)

For Tamimi, setting up the fundraising page was a personal endeavour, and watching the events unfold in Gaza hit close to home. 

“My parents came to the US from the occupied West Bank in the late 80s. We grew up in poverty, so I really didn’t have anything else but books from the donation boxes at school," she said. 

"I re-read each one at least three times. They were a gateway to the world beyond mine growing up and I wish that for every person in Gaza.” 

'The problem is getting the funds to Gaza, due to the blockade. Even if all the funds are raised, the Israeli blockade on Gaza means that it’s difficult for money to get through to us'

- Shaaban Aslem

Despite the support from people around the world, Aslem remains cautious about the future of his bookshop, which was his only source of income.

“The problem is getting the funds to Gaza, due to the blockade. Even if all the funds are raised, the Israeli blockade on Gaza means that it’s difficult for money to get through to us. I’m not too optimistic about it,” he said.

“Initially, I had hope, but after speaking to the banks here, I realised that it would be difficult for the money to reach us here,” he added.

“If I do get the funds, God willing, I will build a bigger and better book store, thanks to everyone who supported me and reached out to me.”

On Friday at 2am local time, Israel and Hamas began a ceasefire, putting an end to hostilities that were sparked by Israeli raids on al-Aqsa Mosque and threatened expulsions of Palestinians from Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Since bombing began on 10 May, at least 232 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Of those, 65 were children, 39 were women and 17 were elderly men. In Israel, 12 people were killed by rockets fired from Gaza, including two children.

According to the Palestinian information ministry, over 36 schools and healthcare clinics were hit by Israeli air strikes, and more than 1,000 residential blocks were also damaged. 

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A Palestinian man walks past the destroyed Al-Shuruq building in Gaza (AFP)

The ministry estimates the cost of damages to be around $18m, with many schools, businesses and media organisations also suffering. With the help of thousands across the world, Aslem may be one of the first in Gaza able to fully rebuild.

For Tamimi, raising funds for the bookshop was unquestionable. “Shaaban worked tirelessly to make his dream come true and there was no way I was going to allow it to be destroyed in a matter of seconds,” she said.