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Refaat Alareer: Tributes pour in for Palestinian scholar and poet killed by Israeli air strike in Gaza

An activist, writer, translator and professor - Refaat Alareer wore many hats. But above all, he was an inspiring mentor 'full of life', his students say
Refaat Alareer, was a professor of literature at the Islamic University of Gaza (Screengrab/X)
Refaat Alareer, was a professor of literature at the Islamic University of Gaza (Screengrab/X)

Tributes are pouring in for prominent Palestinian academic and poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed in an Israeli air strike this week.

Alareer was an activist, writer, translator and literature professor at the Islamic University of Gaza who inspired a generation of Palestinian writers in Gaza.

His family said he was killed in his brother's home in Gaza City, along with his brother, sister and four of her children.

Jehad Abusalim, an author and former student of Alareer, said he was "more than a teacher".

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"He taught me my first English writing course," Abusalim said on X. "He was a mentor, a friend, and he truly cared about his students beyond the classroom.

'If I must die, let it bring hope, let it be a tale'

- Refaat Alareer

"His passion was the English language, but he didn't teach it as a means of disassociating 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 way to break free from Gaza's prolonged siege, a teleportation device that defied Israel's fences and the intellectual, academic, and cultural blockade of Gaza."

Alareer was the editor of Gaza Writes Back, a collection of short stories from young writers in Gaza 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 numbers of Palestinians in the news". 

Since Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign in Gaza on 7 October, Alareer was one of many active voices from Gaza regularly writing updates on social media, appearing in interviews and publishing poetry. 

His home was bombed early on in the war, forcing him and his family to take shelter elsewhere, but he refused to leave Gaza City. 

In a poignant poem published on 1 November, Alareer spoke about the foreboding future he could see was inevitably coming.

"If I must die, you must live, to tell my story, to sell my things," the start of the poem reads. "If I must 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 was taught his first English class by Alareer, said the professor always insisted that his students read the work of Malcolm X, among other writers. 

"He emphasised that learning a language requires understanding its culture and being critical and mindful that language is not free from questions of power and representation," Abusalim said.

Muhammad Shehada, a writer from Gaza, said Alareer always "fought to not be reduced to a number". 

“He was full of energy, life and humour. He loved Chicago pizza, cats, history, classic music, theatre, poetry and Harry Potter,” he wrote. 

A former student of Alareer described him as the "voice of the youth".

“Professor Refaat believed in my writing at the age of 15 and wanted to help me get my short stories published 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. 

"Through the years he became the link between Gaza and the world’s writers. He was the voice of the youth and worked mostly 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 how the Israeli siege is impacting people on the ground. 

In 2014, Israeli air strikes killed his brother Mohammed - whom he nicknamed "Hamada" - along with his wife’s grandfather, her brother, her sister and her sister’s three kids. His apartment was also destroyed in 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 do we have to leave for Israel to be satisfied?'

- Refaat Alareer 

During the 2021 Israeli assault on Gaza, he published an opinion guest essay in the New York Times, where he detailed life under bombardment. 

"I am caught between wanting to take the family outside, despite the missiles, shrapnel and falling debris, and staying at home, like sitting ducks for the American-made, Israeli-piloted planes," he wrote. 

"We stayed at home. At least we would die together, I thought."

In the current ongoing Israeli assault, in which over 17,000 Palestinians have been killed in two months, Alareer repeated his insistence on staying home. 

“How much blood, how many Palestinian lives, how many times do we have to leave for Israel to be satisfied?" he asked.

"We’re also not leaving because we don’t want another Nakba."

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