Posted by: thebluemusicblog | November 20, 2011

AROUND THE MIDDLE EAST IN 16 DAYS – CHAPTER 4: THE YMCA LIBRARY IN GAZA IS BLOWN UP!

Detail from the Library of Alexandria

Yesterday I commented on the Egyptian situation.  I published the blog post late night yesterday. Internet in this hotel is not great; so every night I spend a long time to upload the photos. Before I went to bed, I looked at the last news, it flashed in my face: Tahrir Square full again! Ten thousands of Egyptians demonstrating against the military council leading the country. – All what we fought for can be lost, says one of the activists on Tahrir Square. I felt like my blog post dealt with the daily news almost.

The Egyptians struggle somewhere between military leaders wanting to stay outside of parliamentary control and fundamentalists who probably want to control everybody all the time.

You remember the debate around freedom of speech and the cartoons of a certain prophet? It seems very difficult to deal with the fundamentalist powers in this world, if you stand up against them, you risk being really punished, and if you do not stand up against their wish to control, you loose your freedom and dignity. Sometimes it seems like an impossible dilemma.

Let me share with you a fascinating story from Gaza. In Alexandria I had an hour to myself all of a sudden, and I enjoyed sitting in a beach bar just below my hotel, Paradise Inn, and watching the Mediterranean waves hitting the beach at my feet. I was absolutely the only customer in this open-air bar, and out there at the horizon a thunderstorm was putting on lightening colours and preparing to hit Alexandria with some tons of water and noisy flashes of lightening. Dark clouds, the waves hit harder, the moon disappeared behind the clouds and the atmosphere was very much to my liking. I am fascinated by extreme weather and climate conditions and like to feel the power of nature.

A dark evening at the seaside beach bar

Just then Dr Anton Sheiber from Gaza came and sat with me and we talked. He has passed his 70 and is a famous medical doctor in the world and had just arrived from London. His day job is to be the President of Gaza YMCA. A very interesting guy to share an hour or two with, and even a Stella from Egypt.

Dr,. Anton Sheiber, President of Gaza YMCA

Then Dr. Anton told me a story from Gaza. On the 15th of February 2008 the library of YMCA Gaza was blown up by a bomb, totally ruined. The guard had been handcuffed and left in safety and the car of the YMCA was stolen.

Something like that had never happened to the YMCA. The YMCA is highly respected by all parties and by all religions and groupings because the YMCA is deeply rooted in the Palestinian realities and serves the people no matter what party or what religion they belong to. Unconditional love and care.

That is why this was totally shocking. It was also hitting the personal dignity of the leaders of the YMCA, including Dr. Anton himself and the General Secretary, Isa.

Through their networks they found out who had done it, fanatics belonging to a movement a bit different from the YMCA.

YMCA was offered compensation from the government in Ramallah, but turned it down. They were offered money from the above mentioned movement, not to be named in order to avoid search engines on the net, but turned it down. – We want an apology, not money, said Isa.

Isa Saba, General Secretary of Gaza YMCA

Things started to happen. A message came to the YMCA that the stolen car could be picked up at a given address, but Isa demanded that the car would be returned to him. Four people came to apologize. Mumbled something about the reason for blowing up the library, it was because of the Norwegians printing the cartoons. – Did you not know that the Koran was in the library and is now burnt and on the floor?

The apology was accepted and peace restored. It will never happen again. It is a fascinating example of a YMCA standing up against the fanatics and drawing the longest straw. It is possible! But you need to be so rooted in your own values and in the needs of your people to win that level of respect.

The library is rebuilt. In the hall there is a plaque with the names of donors who made it possible. They are all children who gave a cent, a shekel, a coin from their own pockets. There are no rich people on that plaque. It took longer to reach the goal, but the library was raised with the full ownership and commitment of the poor, of the people themselves.


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