My personal library in Nahr al-Bared

My personal library in Nahr al-Bared
3 min read
20 Dec, 2014
A group of youths decide to create small libraries in coffee shops across Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon.
Most books in Nahr al-Bared were destroyed in the 2007 conflict [AFP]
My bookcase was overflowing with books, so I placed an announcement on Facebook to find a new home for them. In the process I discovered a new generation of Palestinians that do not have the rigid, initiative-stifling mentality of the older generation.

My personal library lived as I did, moving from house to house, country to country. Before Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, I had a personal library in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Saida, Lebanon. However, it was martyred along with our house that wretched summer's shelling. In London I started a new book collection that I shared out between my British, Arab and Kurdish friends when I was forced to leave.

I returned to Lebanon, then Tunisia where I started a new personal library that moved with me, until finally I settled in an abandoned room in Ain al-Hilweh.

Like us, books perish, and like us they get bored of a place. So I placed the announcement to find them a new home hoping to alleviate their boredom.

A young man from Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon contacted me and told me a group of youth from the camp were interested in my books. I thought they wanted them for their personal use. However, it turned out they had an innovative cultural project in mind that filled me with delight.
     In such dire situations when people are struggling to meet their basic needs, no one thinks about acquiring books.

In the coffee shops of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which is still emerging from the ashes of the conflict in 2007 between the Lebanese army and Sunni Islamists, men play cards or backgammon. They also talk about the political situation, social affairs or their personal lives. But they do not read. Most books were destroyed along with the camp's houses in 2007. When people are struggling to meet their basic needs, no one thinks about acquiring books.

The youth from Nahr al-Bared wanted to use the coffee shops to encourage patrons to read. In agreement with the owners, they hoped to create small libraries in each coffee shop of between 10 and 20 books on subjects such as politics, literature, poetry, theatre, history and sociology. Anyone could borrow the books and read them at home. The youths also wanted to create reading groups that would meet at the coffee shop to discuss different books.

The organisers of the project refuse to receive funding from government, factional or non-governmental sources. They rely on their own efforts, because non-governmental organisations operating in Palestinian society are like a cancer, a means to devour and enrich those working for them. Later the youths hope to show films related to Palestinian issues, by Palestinian and Arab directors in the coffee shops.

When Wael Farghawi, a young Palestinian, came to collect the books from my house in Saida, the books were fighting to jump into the boxes to go to Nahr al-Bared. I saw Mahmoud Darwish come out of his poster on the wall smiling at life, and Edward Said among the people whose cause he had dedicated his life to. I saw poets, novelists, thinkers and Arab playwrights all happy to be on those bare shelves, listening to the sound of dice rolled in the wounded refugee camp.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.