Selling books amid bombs: How a woman is bringing hope to war-torn Gaza through reading


(GAZA) — In Deir Al-Balah, a city in the Gaza Strip, Marwa Al-Hasanat has found a way to bring some joy to her community amid the destruction and hardship of war in the form of a roadside bookstore.

Al-Hasanat, 22, a lifelong lover of books inspired by her grandfather who authored three of his own on the Arabic language, started an online bookstore in June 2022 called Marwa.Book. But since the war began on Oct. 7, Al-Hasanat has not been able to purchase books to sell online from Gaza City, where she used to get her supply. The intermittent internet connection throughout the current war has also left her online bookstore inoperable.

Al-Hasanat told ABC News she has experienced her own tragedies in the current conflict.

After a bombing in November hit the house adjacent to hers, her father was killed, she said. Al-Hasanat was trapped under rubble for 15 minutes, she said. Ultimately she was able to escape and survived; she said in an interview with ABC News.

“During the war, what does not kill us makes us stronger. Since I emerged from under the rubble for about 15 minutes, I was saying that I am still alive, but no one hears me or knows about me. After they took me out [of the rubble], I felt that I had a mission and a purpose in this world. I was not killed because of the bombing. So I have a goal,” Al-Hasanat said.

Al-Hasanat said she had a newfound determination. Despite losing her father, she wanted to continue to pursue and share her love and passion for books. If she could not sell her books online, she decided she would start selling them in the street.

Enlisting the help of her cousin Abdul Hakim, she set up a modest stand amidst the street noise filled with displaced people, aiming to support her family after her father’s death and to continue spreading the culture she deeply cherished.

Al-Hasanat has seen a positive reaction from her community to the roadside bookstore, she said.

“The community is very interactive with the library because they want to read and learn. We spread culture, and they change their mood by reading. They feel that they are on a journey and challenge motives and war. We are an educated society. It is truly interactive,” Al-Hasanat told ABC News.

The community’s response to Al-Hasanat’s street bookstore was overwhelmingly positive, she said.

Hiba Al-Za’anin, who was displaced from Beit Hanoun to Deir Al-Balah, said that she was grateful for the presence of the bookstore, and Al-Hasanat’s idea in the street, especially after she bought the novel “Anne of Green Gables.”

A displaced person from Gaza City lost his wife in a bombing there, he told ABC News. His wife loved reading, he said, so he is grateful that he’s been able to continue his wife’s reading journey by buying books and novels from Al-Hasanat.

“Reading books motivates people … provides food for the soul, and also motivates them for the future,” Hakim told ABC News.

Even though there are challenges to running her roadside bookstore – there is a constant fear of danger, and bombings could start at any minute – she believes the books are “sending a message.”

“I am sending a message to everyone in society to read, look for a new life in books, instead of the life we live, we are looking for a semblance of life. If you read, you will find a lot of life in books,” Al-Hasanat said.

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