My colleague and I chuckled at this one, “We want to go to the airport in the West Bank, can you take us?” we asked. Of course, there is no way to the West Bank from Gaza — the only way in or out is through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, if you’re lucky. Otherwise, its the tunnels. Palestinians in Gaza say they live in a big prison. Indeed if one stays here long enough, a suffocating sensation takes over.
I met an American colleague for tea yesterday evening and saw that he had Orhan Pamuk’s book, The Museum of Innocence sitting on the table.
“They have books here!” I exclaimed.
I had assumed books were still not available in Gaza. He had asked me to bring him The Call of the Wild from abroad a few weeks ago, and my Arabic teacher was still having difficulties getting a hold of what appeared to be the only Palestinian Arab text book in Gaza so that he could make a copy. Israel had banned books from entering Gaza when it imposed the blockade, so I had brought several books in addition to those already on the kindle app on my ipad. (There are rolling power outages in Gaza, so I wanted to be prepared.)
I flipped The Museum over in anticipation of the label on the back. Would the price be in shekels or Egyptian pounds? Egyptian pounds it was! 170 to be exact — or about $29. The book had come through the tunnels! Of course it had. Since coming here, I’ve noticed that everything — tea, pepper, deodorant, coca-cola, canned chickpeas, wedding dresses — comes through the tunnels. Of course, there was a black market tunnel trade in Nobel Prize-winning literature. Israel always refers to these subterranean trade routes as “arms smuggling tunnels” but Palestinians in Gaza depend on them for everything from shampooing their hair to getting married.
My colleague couldn’t recall how much he spent in shekels for the book, but promised to take me to the bookstore this week. I can’t wait to find out which books are so important, that people will risk death for. Stay tuned!