Book smugglers in Gaza are reluctant to disclose details on their routes, fearing ramifications from the Israeli government, which already bombs the Egypt-Gaza tunnels several times a year, and the Hamas government, which has increased its searches at the passenger-only Rafah border crossing, through with retailers also attempt to smuggle goods. The Gazan government considers the tunnels a legitimate trade route, so it allows goods to pass through there.
Gazan education officials assert that the tunnels are key to the education of Gaza’s 500,000 students. Awni Maqayyid, head of the Hamas-run Islamic University’s Central Library, says that “the education system would collapse” without the tunnel industry.
Despite smugglers' attempts to stock Gaza’s libraries and bookstores – around 5 million textbooks are required per year – Palestinians are still frustrated by the lack of books in Gaza. They hold Israel responsible, arguing that the restrictions on book imports amounts to a censoring of their education.
One Gazan bookshop owner, who introduced himself as Mohammed Ahmed, says that it is too difficult to import books via Israel, “so we travel to Egypt, buy books, and bring them back in our bags.” Many bookshop owners tell the same story.
And although it is possible for bookshop owners to buy books from Israel, they claim that Israeli book prices are unaffordable for Gaza’s underemployed and besieged population. Smuggling books from distant countries can be less expensive than buying them from just across the Israeli border.
A medical bookshop employee explains how he smuggles books in his luggage through Rafah, which is a passenger-only crossing: “I cross into Egypt, buy a plane ticket to London to purchase the books for medical students. This way is easier and even cheaper than it is to import the books through Israel," says the man, who introduced himself as Mahmood Bakri. Editor's note: Due to an editing error, this paragraph has been changed to correctly reflect Mr. Bakri's occupation.