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Return to Gaza: A Window on the World

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Ramallah/Joerg Schumacher
The reading room of the dialogue point in Gaza (computer rendering: Goethe-Institut Ramallah/Joerg Schumacher)

13 November 2009

A year after the war, the people in the Gaza Strip still live under very difficult conditions. Hardly any may leave; food, medicine and other everyday necessities are in short supply. In spite of the adverse conditions, the Goethe-Institut has now opened a Dialogpunkt in the centre of the troubled area. By Barbara Galaktionow

“We are the first institute to open a presence in Gaza after the war,” says Joerg Schumacher, who has been director of the Goethe-Institut Palestinian Territories in Ramallah since January 2009. It was not as easy task and the date had to be postponed a number of times. At times, there was not enough timber and metal for the bookshelves, then there were difficulties importing the books and other media, or Israel impeded the entry of Schumacher and other institute staff from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

Nonetheless, after more than a year in planning, it has now been done: The Goethe-Institut has set up a Dialogpunkt in the municipal library in Gaza City. In the scope of a special programme intended to promote dialogue with Islamic countries and regions in the Middle East and North Africa, a reading room, language courses and events with German and Palestinian artists and intellectuals will give wings to cultural dialogue between Germany and the Gaza Strip.

In spite of the many difficulties, Schumacher is confident that the effort was and is worth it: “A reading room in Gaza is expedient; free access to information and also the mediation of the German language and German and European culture is crucial in Gaza right now in particular.” The dialogue point offers the people there not food and medicine, but precisely what they also lack at this time: information about what is going on outside the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the facility will demonstrate to the Palestinians that the world has not forgotten the people in Gaza.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Ramallah/Joerg Schumacher Photo gallery: Dialogpunkt in Gaza – an optimistic place

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut, is also convinced that the institute can contribute to “strengthening civilian society in the Palestinian Territories for the long term” by opening the Dialogpunkt.

The reading room of the Dialogpunkt is stocked with approximately one thousand media – books, interactive language and learning materials, magazines, DVDs and music CDs. The offer covers a broad range of subject matter and ranges from German classics such as Thomas Mann to contemporary authors and children’s literature. In addition to materials that belong to the basic inventory of all dialogue points, books were selected that would be specifically interesting for the people of the Gaza Strip, for example works by the Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish. Most of the books are Arabic translations of German books or German translations of Arabic works.

The routine tasks, such as lending, supervision and advising, are carried out by Dialogpunkt supervisor Sahel Karma, a German-speaking employee of the municipal library. He hopes to offer the people in Gaza and the young people in particular not only information, but a “place for learning and open discussion.”

150 German learners

In cooperation with the language department of the Goethe-Institut in Ramallah, language courses will also be offered in the municipal library – and not for the first time. Language teacher Akram Arouq has been teaching German in the Gaza Strip for the Goethe-Institut since 2006. Every year, about 150 Palestinians have taken advantage of this offer, according to Arouq mostly young men preparing for studies in Germany, but also young women wishing to reunite with their spouses living in Germany.

The Gaza War halted all of public life, and the German courses could not be held for over one month, the teacher reports. For many of his students, this was a drastic interruption of their life plans, as some were unable to complete their courses and therefore not take the examinations required for their visa applications in time. Some lost their opportunity to study in Germany or were unable to apply to reunite with their families. And yet others, in spite of having finished their tests and been granted visas, could not overcome the still largely sealed off borders to Israel and Egypt.

The opening of the dialogue point is a small ray of hope for the people of Gaza according to Arouq. The Goethe-Institut branch is very important for a small circle of people who had contacts with Germany and German culture, “in particular for people returning from Germany or those who wish to go to Germany to study or live,” Arouq reports. Moreover, the Dialogpunkt also has a more general significance: it opens a tiny window on the outside world.
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