A sobering new report, released yesterday by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, details the devastating impact two months of Israeli bombardment have had on the cultural sector of Gaza.
Titled “Second Preliminary Report on Cultural Sector Damage,” the wide-ranging report begins with this powerful introduction from Minister of Culture Dr. Atef Abu Saif (who has been trapped in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war, and who has had several relatives killed by Israeli airstrikes):
The war against our people in Gaza continues, and their resilience persists despite the daily crimes committed by the occupation. This blind war spares nothing and disregards all human values, ethics, and international laws. The essence of this war is rooted in the attempt to eradicate and erase our people, to displace and expel them. Therefore, it targets everything in the Gaza Strip, devastating all aspects of life, from humans to buildings, trees, and water sources. During this genocidal war, all aspects of life are targeted without exception. As usual, the cultural life of the country is targeted as part of this relentless war against our people, which essentially aims to complete the Nakba plan that began in 1948. The grandson of the gang’s soldier who bombed the Red Cinema in Jaffa seventy-five years ago destroyed the Rashad Al-Shawwa Center in Gaza, and the same mentality that targeted the National Museum in Jerusalem during the Nakba days later targeted the Qarara Museum and the “Museum” afterward. The war on culture has always been at the heart of the aggressors’ war on our people, as the real war is a war on the narrative to steal the land and its rich treasures of knowledge, history, and civilization, along with the stories it holds.
Our people, who gifted the world with the first alphabet in history and shaped its meanings and means of communication, have witnessed the rise of religions and the enlightenment of humanity from the radiance of their ethics. They will undoubtedly continue to contribute to human civilization, restoring joy and hope, elevating through singing, music, poetry, novels, stories, and tales rooted in the ever-evolving consciousness, culture, and thought of the land of the first stories.
The report goes on to detail the deaths of writers, artists, and dancers; information about the destruction of various publishing houses and archives; as well as the loss of historical buildings. The authors of the report acknowledge the difficulty in trying to obtain precise and comprehensive information in the midst of ongoing bombardment, but note that the report “attempts to provide an overview of what we have been able to access.”
As well as a vital accounting of the institutions destroyed during this ongoing cultural genocide, the report serves as a poignant tribute to the 28 known creative professionals (including four children) killed by Israeli airstrikes since October 7—from 73-year-old poet Shahdah Al-Buhbahan, who was killed alongside his 6-year-old granddaughter, to dance champions Sham Abu Obeid and Leila Abdel Fattah Al-Atarsh, who were both just 8 years old when they died; from 15-year-old violin prodigy at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music Lubna Mahmoud Alian, who was killed alongside 50 member of her family, to “godfather of Palestinian journalism” Bilal Jadallah, who was killed trying to reach his family in Khan Yunis; from UNESCO Chair in Physics and Astrophysics and Space Science in Palestine and President of the Islamic University Dr. Sufian Taieh, who was killed alongside his entire family, to award-winning poet and novelist Heba Abu Nada, who was killed alongside her son.
The report is well worth reading in full, but here is an overview of the cultural losses suffered since October 7:
28 Creative Professionals (artists, poets, writers, musicians, calligraphers, and dancers) killed by Israeli bombing.
9 Publishing Houses and Libraries damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombing (including the Samir Mansour Library, which had previously been targeted by Israeli forces in 2021).
21 Cultural Centers damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombing.
20 Historical Sites (churches, mosques, museums, and archaeological sites) damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombing (including the Rafah Museum, which housed hundreds of artifacts related to ancient Palestinian heritage; the Church of Saint Porphyrius, the third oldest church in the world; the Sayyid Hashim Mosque, the burial place of the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad; the Grand Omari Mosque in the heart of Gaza City’s Old Town, the oldest and largest mosque in Gaza; and the port of Anthedon, which was listed as a World Heritage and Islamic Heritage Site).