2014 has been a year notable for violence, conflict and destruction
The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) was established shortly after the close of World War II in the hope of helping the world move beyond such things. IBBY’s founder, Jella Lepman, believed that books could build bridges of understanding and peace between people. Children all over the world needed to know what all good readers know: you are not alone; others, even your enemies, have experiences, feelings and needs just like you do, and there is a whole world out there that you know little about. IBBY’s work in the past sixty years has been informed by these ideals.
Projects in Afghanistan, Iran, with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, and in Pakistan are recent examples of this work. Today we are launching an appeal for the reconstruction of IBBY’s Gaza libraries.
In 2012 IBBY included in its mission statement that it is committed to protect and uphold the Rights of the Child. IBBY will voice its disapproval against anyone who harms or disregards these rights – regardless of the offender.
IBBY has been supporting two children’s libraries in the Gaza Strip since 2008. One library was situated in the northern community of Beit Hanoun near the Israeli border, the other in the south in the town of Rafah, close to the border crossing with Egypt. The funding for the libraries came, to a great extent, from the great American children’s author Katherine Paterson and her family foundation. The librarians had to be trained long distance because of the ongoing Israeli Government blockade and the Egyptian Government’s frequent closure of the border crossing into Egypt, both of which makes travel impossible for the residents of Gaza. The books selected by IBBY experts in the region took months to arrive, but they did finally reach Gaza and the libraries could at last open. The children from the local communities found a safe refuge – as long as there was no war raging around them.
But in recent years there have been three devastating wars fought in this tiny, closed territory. And each time these children are invisible – “collateral damage”. Anything, apparently, can be done to them with impunity.
At dawn on Sunday, 18 July 2014 the Israeli Occupation forces targeted the al-Ataa Charitable Society resulting in the partial destruction of the building. The damage was great and among the projects that were destroyed was the IBBY library.
Again at dawn ten days later on Thursday 28 July, just before the humanitarian truce ended, the Society was hit: a direct rocket from an F16 fighter jet completely destroyed the building levelling it to the ground. With this, Beit Hanoun lost an essential institution that had served all the sections of the Palestinian community: the children, women, young people and those with special needs.
The al-Shawka library in Rafah was occupied by the military and left in a very dirty condition with its windows broken. However, even though much of the equipment is broken or missing, the books are still on their shelves. This is good news for the children, although the majority of them have lost their homes and the librarian’s house was completely destroyed.
By the end of July it was reported that there were 182,604 internally displaced people in Gaza.
Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive, over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed, some 1,600 of whom are civilians, including at least 500 children and 300 women. Well over 10,000 others have been wounded. Again these are mostly civilians, many women and children. Thousands of houses have been completely or partially destroyed by the shelling.
In April 2013 the IBBY President, Executive Director and Foundation President visited Gaza and saw just how much the young library users loved and depended on their libraries. They felt safe there. They could explore their feelings and find hope there. They could imagine a better life there. Today these children have been robbed of all that these libraries gave them.
The IBBY community has an obligation to rebuild these libraries, and we will – re-housing and re-stocking them in order to try to bring these children who have lost so much, help and the knowledge that they are not alone, not abandoned as they rebuild their lives once again. Perhaps with time they can regain a sense of safety and belief in the value of dialogue and hope for the future. They will know that we care.
If you would like to help IBBY carry on this valuable work as it endeavours to break the cycle of war and aggression and build justice and peace, please give generously.
Bank: Basler Kantonalbank: BKBBCHBB
For donations in Swiss francs: CH38 0077 0016 0566 2424 6
For donations in Euros: CH66 0077 0016 5414 1373 7
For donations in US dollars: CH29 0077 0016 5401 3827 1
Please mark your donation: IBBY Gaza
Or go to the IBBY website: www.ibby.org > donations