Tributes are pouring in for prominent Palestinian scholar and poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed this week in an Israeli airstrike.
Alareer was an activist, writer, translator and professor of literature at the Islamic University of Gaza who inspired an entire generation of Palestinian writers in Gaza.
His family said he was killed at his brother’s home in Gaza City, along with his brother, sister and four of his children.
Jehad Abusalim, an author and former student of Alareer, said he was “more than a teacher.”
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“He gave me my first writing lesson in English”, Abusalim said the. “He was a mentor, a friend and truly cared about his students beyond the classroom.
“If I must die, may it bring hope, may it be a tale”
“His passion was the English language, but he did not teach it as a means of dissociating himself from society, as is common among many English-speaking upper and middle classes in the Third World. For Refaat, English was a tool of liberation. , a means of liberation from the prolonged siege of Gaza, a teleportation device that defied Israeli barriers and the intellectual, academic and cultural blockade of Gaza. »
Alareer was the editor of Gaza Writes Back, a collection of short stories by young Gaza writers published in 2014. He also co-edited Gaza Unsilenced (2015) and contributed to the 2022 collection Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire.
He was one of the founders of “We Are Not Numbers,” a platform that mentors young Palestinian writers to “tell the stories behind the number of Palestinians in the news.”
Since Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign on Gaza on October 7, Alareer was one of many active voices in Gaza who regularly wrote social media updates, appeared in interviews and published poetry.
Professor Refaat Alareer was killed by Israeli forces, his friend announced Thursday.
Alareer was co-founder of the “We Are Not Numbers” project, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza and one of Gaza’s most prominent writers, poets and activists. pic.twitter.com/ukagacSLRN
– Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) December 7, 2023
His house was bombed at the start of the war, forcing him and his family to seek refuge elsewhere, but he refused to leave Gaza City.
In a poignant poem published on November 1, Alareer speaks of the worrying future that he believes is inevitably looming.
“If I must die, you must live, to tell my story, to sell my things,” we read at the beginning of the poem. “If I have to die, let it bring hope, let it be a tale. »
Teacher, mentor, friend
Many Palestinian writers and former students of Alareer took to social media to mourn Alareer and celebrate his life.
Abusalim, who Alareer taught his first English class, said the professor always insisted that his students read the work of Malcolm X, among other writers.
“He emphasized that learning a language requires understanding its culture and being critical and aware that language is not free from issues of power and representation,” Abusalim said.
Mohammed Shehada, a writer from Gaza, said that Alareer “always fought not to be reduced to a number.”
“He was full of energy, life and humor. He loved Chicago pizza, cats, history, classical music, theater, poetry and Harry Potter,” he wrote.
A former student of Alareer described it as the “voice of youth”.
“Professor Refaat believed in my writing from the age of 15 and wanted to help me publish my short stories in a book. I looked up to him, he was a true inspiration to me and I always made sure to mention him to everyone. My heart is bleeding right now,” she said.
“Over the years, he became the link between Gaza and writers around the world. He was the voice of youth and worked mainly with young people in literary fields. »
‘We stayed at home’
Alareer regularly contributed to the online platform Electronic Intifada where he spoke about the killing of his students, his mentors and the impact of the Israeli siege on those on the ground.
In 2014, Israeli airstrikes killed his brother Mohammed – whom he nicknamed “Hamada” – as well as his wife’s grandfather, his brother, his sister and his sister’s three children. His apartment was also destroyed the same year.
He previously said that between him and his wife, Nusayba, they lost more than 30 relatives in Israeli attacks.
“How much blood, how many Palestinian lives, how many times must we leave for Israel to be satisfied?
During the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2021, he published an opinion essay in the New York Times, in which he detailed life under the bombardment.
“I’m caught between wanting to take the family outside, despite the missiles, shrapnel and falling debris, and staying home as easy targets for American-made and Israeli-piloted planes,” he said. he writes.
“We stayed at home. At least we would die together, I thought. »
Amid the ongoing Israeli offensive, in which more than 17,000 Palestinians have been killed in two months, Alareer reiterated his insistence on staying home.
“How much blood, how many Palestinian lives, how many times must we leave for Israel to be satisfied? “, he asked.
“We are also not leaving because we do not want another Nakba. »