At the Islamic University in Gaza
Omar Robert Hamilton 6 August 2014
We pulled up to the shining blue facade of the main hall of the Islamic University in Gaza in the summer of 2012. The Palestine Festival of Literature was running a seminar and an afternoon of workshops with students from the Arabic and English departments. Jamal Mahjoub, Selma Dabbagh and Amr Ezzat spoke to a packed auditorium of around 200 students, mostly young women, all veiled. The university enforces a dress code. Someone smiled at me from the crowd and it was a full three seconds before I recognised my friend and colleague Rana. She is not normally veiled. But this is the university with the best facilities.
The students, as always, were smart and challenging. They wanted to know how to get published, they wanted to try out new writing on new ears. They wanted to know what it would take to get the world to listen. Rana tweeted from the workshop, quoting: ‘writing has always been the best way to fight.’
We were taken to see the library. It was large and very well stocked. I asked how they had so many books, when books are so often prevented from passing through the siege. We were taken to see the sorting room. It was the size of a large bedroom and filled to the ceiling with polypropylene cargo sacks covered in tunnel sand and spilling out books. Four women sat at desks at the front, dusting the books off, stamping them, cataloguing them.
The university had been bombed in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead. What was destroyed was rebuilt. It was bombed again last on Saturday. The central building with the bright blue glass facade that greets visitors has been destroyed.
The Israeli army’s Twitter account said it hit ‘a weapons development center located in the Islamic University’. From what I can remember it hit the English department, two auditoriums and a canteen.
The forecourt was littered with charred exam papers, essays and books. One crumpled sheet considered Yeats’s ‘Second Coming’. The student finds herself in agreement with the poet: ‘the great last day will come sooner or later.’