Joining the international efforts to rebuild the destroyed library of Iraq’s University of Mosul, the Palestinian Authority sent thousands of books to the university in August and promised more to come within a month.
The university library, which is open to the public, was set on fire by the Islamic State in June 2014. The three-story library contained thousands of books and manuscripts, some of which dated back to the Ottoman Empire, and scientific research papers prepared by students over 51 years, ever since the University, the second largest in Iraq, was founded in 1967. Some 8,000 books and 100,000 documents, including rare maps, were destroyed.
With the liberation of Mosul by the Iraqi government forces in 2017, Iraqi activists and intellectuals began to donate books to the University of Mosul and the city's central library. The Iraqi Parliament’s Culture and Information Committee launched an international campaign, in which books are still being donated today. Tens of thousands of books have been sent from all over the world, including Australia, members of the Europe Union and the United States.
Palestine’s goodwill gesture comes at a time when the country, which faces a fiscal deficit of nearly $1 billion this year, relies heavily on international aid.
"We handed over 5,000 books to the Iraqi Embassy in Amman to be delivered to the University of Mosul in a message of love and brotherhood from the Palestinian people to the Iraqi people,” Fatah Central Committee member Dalal Salama told Al-Monitor. Salama had presided over a delegation to Amman to present the first batch of books.
"Our message through this cultural support to Mosul is that we are against terrorism everywhere. We look forward to ending the Israeli occupation in our Palestinian territories just like the Iraqis were able to end the occupation of Mosul and other Iraqi provinces.”
The Palestinian donations are organized by the Palestinian-Iraqi Friendship Association, a Ramallah-based nongovernmental organization founded in 2017. The group aims to develop relations between civil society institutions in both countries, especially in the scientific, cultural, health and media fields.
Rola Ashteh, the vice president of the Palestinian-Iraqi Friendship Association, told Al-Monitor, “This campaign carries a message to the Iraqi people and to the world that the Palestinian people are ready to support others when they can, even though the country struggles with its own occupation and has a continued need for international support to improve the quality of its citizens’ lives.”
Ashteh noted that several state institutions, such as the Ministry of Education, also participated in the book collection. “The ministry collected a large part of these books from the libraries of Palestinian universities in the West Bank. A part of these books also came from Palestinian citizens’ individual donations,” she said.
She explained that the donated books varied from literature, science and mathematics to religion. Some of them are Palestinian fiction and poetry. “We sent books by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, as well as various Arabic novels and their translations into foreign languages.”
Ashteh further noted that the majority of the population of Mosul shares the same religion as Palestinians, Sunni Islam. “This facilitated the collection of books," she said. "Religious books in Palestine are compatible with religious belief in Mosul.”
Saad Khalil, head of the Palestinian campaign to support the University of Mosul, told Al-Monitor that it was created in response to an appeal by the university. He explained that a second phase will collect books from citizens and cultural institutions in the West Bank and Gaza during September. “We aspire to collect a quarter million Palestinian books as cultural support for the Iraqi people,” he said.
Talal Okal, a writer and political analyst in the Beirut-based independent think tank Palestinian Studies Organization, called the drive to support the University of Mosul with books "a moral and ethical obligation of the Palestinians toward. the Iraqi people.”
Okal said that Palestinians received free education in Iraqi universities under Saddam Hussein. He told Al-Monitor, “Palestinians still remember the Iraqi support. Saddam Hussein's regime provided financial aid to the families of victims and those wounded by the Israeli aggression during the second Palestinian intifada,” he said. According to local reports, every Palestinian whose house Israel demolished was given $25,000 and each family that lost a member in the violence was given $10,000. Every injured Palestinian who suffered a disability got $1,000, and every wounded minor received $500.
Okal said that Iraqi financial support declined after 2003 because the Iraqi people needed the money themselves to face the post-Saddam crises. But, he added, “At the political level, Iraq always upheld the right of the Palestinians to an independent state and stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories."
In 2015, Iraq provided its last financial aid to the PA of $28.7 million. The donation was criticized at the time within the Iraqi Parliament, with some members demanding that the money be spent domestically instead.
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