In May this year, I visited Egypt for the first time.
I saw many buildings that were old and covered with dust. Nonetheless, they were intact.
The contrast with Gaza is stark. Israel’s wars have inflicted immense damage on our infrastructure and heritage.
During the latest war, ancient sites and famous landmarks have been destroyed or severely damaged.
Israel clearly aims to erase Palestinian culture and history. It wishes to weaken the collective identity of Palestinians.
The Israelis understand that culture and heritage are integral parts of our sense of belonging.
Our heritage sites are symbols of our existence.
The Great Mosque in Gaza City – also known as the al-Omari mosque – is now in ruins. Photographers have documented the extensive destruction Israel caused to it.
Only its minaret is left standing, albeit with damage to the upper section.
The mosque was named in tribute to Omar bin al-Khattab, the caliph, and has been a Muslim place of worship since the seventh century.
“Meet me at the mosque”
When people in Gaza were arranging to see each other, they would often say, “Meet me at the mosque.”
The mosque also served as a place of respite and relaxation.
It was conveniently located next to a number of vibrant markets. It was an accessible space for people to rejuvenate themselves before exploring everything that the markets had to offer.
Israel also targeted the Rashad al-Shawa Cultural Center. I attended numerous book launches, poetry readings and youth events there.The center’s name pays tribute to Rashad al-Shawa, the mayor of Gaza City in the 1970s and early 1980s. Al-Shawa was among Gaza’s most influential figures.
One of Gaza’s most recent major buildings is the Palace of Justice – Qasr al-Adl in Arabic. It was opened in 2018.
The Palace of Justice contained an extensive collection of files, including both unresolved cases and adjudicated ones that are still awaiting resolution. By bombing this palace and its archives, Israel may have caused a chaos in the judicial system that will require years to address.
“The Palace of Justice was a symbol of civil society, detached from the military or politics,” Ali al-Naouq, a prominent Palestinian lawyer, said. “Its destruction signifies the loss of a part of our civilization and our pride. People’s cases, documents and rights have been obliterated. To recreate each file, a great deal of time will be required. Significant harm has been inflicted on justice and the whole legal profession.”
A video circulated on social media showed the moment of the explosion, which turned the building into rubble in seconds. The explosion was massive.
After the recent ground invasion, the Israeli press published pictures of soldiers posing triumphantly in front of the Palace of Justice. Not content with capturing the courthouse, the Israelis have now destroyed it.
Israel has also bombed the central archives building in Gaza City. Thousands of historical documents were destroyed as a result.
This is a reprehensible act. It reflects Israel’s contempt for the rich history and cultural heritage of Palestine.
I was not surprised at how the Israelis are trying to erase our culture. To the Israelis, doing so is considered normal – just as killing people en masse is considered normal.
But I am surprised that international organizations sponsoring and embracing culture are saying very little about this destruction. Why are they not protesting?
Ghada Abed is a journalist based in Gaza.