On December 7, an Israel airstrike murdered Refaat Alareer, a poet, writer, editor and teacher. He was born, lived his life, and died in Gaza. For decades his literary work humanized the people of Gaza, and connected their lives, aspirations, insights, and the horrors they were subjected to by Israel with the world. A colleague told Democracy Now!, “Refaat’s teaching wasn’t just about imparting knowledge. It was about empowerment and about using language as a weapon against oppression.”
Refaat Alareer edited and contributed to two books of short stories by Gaza writers, Gaza Writes Back and Gaza Unsilenced. Half of the stories in Gaza Writes Back started out as assignments in a creative writing or fiction course Refaat Alareer taught in Gaza. His students studied works by Arabic and English language writers. He encouraged them to write fiction stories in order to universalize the pain, outrage, and defiance they experienced and felt. The stories in Gaza Writes Back, written in English, reflect the experiences of the writers in Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-2009, the first of many genocidal invasions and massacres of the people of Gaza by Israel. One of those stories, by Yousef Aljamal, tells the true story of his older brother Omar being killed by Israeli troops.
A majority of the short story authors included in Gaza Writes Back are women. In the introduction to Gaza Writes Back, Refaat Alareer says, “[T]his young wave of female short story writers comes to continue the struggle and at the same time revolutionize it, adding their own sensibility and their own worldview. It is also notable that the women portrayed in the stories are powerful, independent, intellectual, and proactive. Their role is no longer restricted to giving birth to freedom fighters, they are the freedom fighters.”
A book tour of the U.S. for Gaza Writes Back in 2014 included several of the young authors, and a reading and discussion at Revolution Books in New York City. One young woman author said there that the stories she learned to write about Gaza were not “hers,” but they belong to the people they describe. And she talked about how not keeping this all to herself is part of resisting.
During Israel’s assault on Gaza after October 7, Refaat Alareer reportedly received many death threats from Israelis. He was killed along with his brother, sister and four of her children when his sister’s home was hit by an Israeli air attack. A report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor presents evidence that his death may have been a deliberate assassination by Israel. In any event, his death—like those of, at this point, over 17,000 other people in Gaza—is a crime against humanity.