The Guardian • Issue #2087

Cultural genocide in Gaza

The Great Omari Mosque before its destruction.

The Great Omari Mosque before its destruction. Photo: Ramez Habboub – Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Gaza’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry estimates that as many as 104 mosques have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the Israeli assault.

Isber Sabrine, president of an international NGO that documents cultural heritage, has said that crimes affecting cultural heritage are part of the “collateral damage of genocide.”

Wiping out the cultural heritage of a people is one of Israel’s many war crimes. Here are a few examples.

Great Omari Mosque

The Great Omari Mosque in Gaza City had been used as a place of worship for as many as 5,000 members of the local community since 1291 and had served as a focal point for gatherings and cultural activities.

Its library was once filled with rare manuscripts, including old copies of the Quran, biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, and ancient books on philosophy, medicine, and Sufi mysticism. The library, opened in 1277, once boasted a collection of 20,000 books and manuscripts.

It was built on top of the ruins of an ancient church built in 406, which itself was built over the foundations of a pagan temple to the Canaanite fertility god, Dagon.

According to one account, Samson, a warrior who was known to hold his strength in his hair, was buried under the rubble of the structure after he brought the walls of the pagan temple down upon himself.

The Great Omari Mosque is thought to be the first mosque built in Gaza 1,400 years ago.

On 8 December, it was destroyed in an Israeli air strike which reduced it to rubble, with only its minaret left standing.

Rafah Museum

The Rafah Museum had completed a 30-year project to curate a collection of ancient coins, copper plates and jewellery, making it Gaza’s main museum of Palestinian heritage.

It was destroyed in an air strike on 11 October.

Al Qarara Museum

Also known as the Khan Younis Museum, its collection consisted of about 3,000 artefacts dating back to the Canaanites, the Bronze Age civilisation in Gaza and across much of the Levant in the second century BC.

All that remains of the museum are shards of pottery and smashed glass after an Israeli air strike in October.

Church of Saint Porphyrius

This Greek Orthodox church was built in 425 on the foundations of an ancient pagan site. It is considered to be the third oldest church in the world.

It was struck and damaged on 19 October.

Byzantine Church of Jabalia

Built in 444, this church’s floor was once decorated with colourful mosaics depicting animals, hunting scenes and palm trees. Its walls were adorned with 16 religious texts written in ancient Greek, which dated to the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled Byzantium from 408 to 450.

It was destroyed in October last year by Israeli air strikes.

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