In Gaza City, the largest community in the Gaza Strip, the Teacher's Bookshop is becoming a Borders-style third place. Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) may gather there, away from work and home, to find friendship amid books and music under the umbrella of the Palestinian Bible Society.
Journalist Deann Alford was motivated to visit this bookshop in a terror zone after reading about it in Light Force, Brother Andrew's account of his involvement in the Middle East peace process.
In his book, Andrew writes of the shop's unusual clientele: "One young man kept returning each day. 'I cannot take any of these books home. My family would destroy them.'" The young man would read books at the store, ask questions, go home to study more on the internet, and then return the next day with more questions. Everyone needs a place to hang out, even refugees in Gaza.
In 1990, Florida sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term "third place" to describe the neighborhood café, diner, general store, beauty parlor, or hangout. Each one is an inexpensive and easily accessible place where people can gain safe harbor from the demands of their homes (first place) and work (second place). Oldenburg's research revealed that healthy communities have lots of vibrant third places, where "everybody knows your name."
But for Alford, the big worry in visiting the Teacher's Bookshop was getting there at all. Her passages in and out of Gaza were daunting introductions to the Middle East's security checkpoints. In Gaza, nearly everyone has an unforgettable border-crossing story. One Palestinian-American Christian shared with Alford that he was crossing the northern border at Erez with a guitar and a suitcase. Israeli guards called in a bomb robot. The ...