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A Tribute to Refaat Alareer and the Power of Palestinian Poetry

By Dea Fejzullahu


Refaat Alareer was a poet, scholar, and professor who took a great step into activism for his country’s rights. In the realm of poetic mastery, Refaat Alareer carved his legacy with profound finesse. His parting gift to the world If I Die, Let it be a Tale, has recently made the rounds on the internet, but more than anything, it serves as a testament to his talent, unraveling the profound impact of the skilled Palestinian wordsmith and his ability to both unsettle the complacent and offer solace to the wounded.


Join us in honoring Alareer, a man whose tongue was truly sharper than the blade.


The great artiste came to the world on 23 September 1979, marking the beginning of a journey unlike no other. In his lifetime, Refaat Alareer was dedicated to the fight and love for his homeland, which touched people across the globe until the very end.


Alareer taught literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza and co-founded the organization We Are Not Numbers, which was created to connect experienced authors with the young minds of Gaza, promoting a bombing of words as a means of resistance. 


Further, he edited two volumes of Gaza Writes Back (2014) and Gaza Unsilenced (2015), in which he said that “Gaza Writes Back was an attempt to provide a testimony for future generations.”


Not once was he silent about the horrific events that followed, and during the 2021 Israel-Palestine crisis, he shared his opinion in the New York Times in the piece, My Child Asks, ‘Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power Is Out?’. Towards the end of the article, he shares the the conversation he had with his daughter, Linah:


On Tuesday, Linah asked her question again after my wife and I didn’t answer it the first time: Can they destroy our building if the power is out? I wanted to say: “Yes, little Linah, Israel can still destroy the beautiful al-Jawharah building, or any of our buildings, even in the darkness. Each of our homes is full of tales and stories that must be told. Our homes annoy the Israeli war machine, mock it, haunt it, even in the darkness. It can’t abide their existence. And, with American tax dollars and international immunity, Israel presumably will go on destroying our buildings until there is nothing left.”

But I can’t tell Linah any of this. So I lie: “No, sweetie. They can’t see us in the dark.”

From my spot in the world, I find the read horrifying. Horrifying, yes, but true.


It's a great shame that we tend to hide the stories that perhaps need the most coverage, that we deny our ears to spare ourselves the grief. For many, it's easy to stay silent, to say they don't "care for politics." In my view, the fact that there are parents like Alareer, who have to say these things to their eight-year-old children, should be enough to cause uproar and riot for the freedom of these people, regardless of where they are from. Silence is the greatest weapon against the oppressed.


Refaat Alareer was an example of a true fighter who managed to get his voice heard, a poet who showed that even one singular change could encourage hope for change. 


In his last interview before being killed with distant Israeli bombs exploding being heard in the background, he said:


“I am an academic. Probably the toughest thing I have at home is an Expo marker. But if the Israelis invade, if they barge at us, charge at us open door-to-door to massacre us, I am going to use that marker to throw it at the Israeli soldiers, even if that is the last thing that I would be able to do. And this is the feeling of everybody. We are helpless. We have nothing to lose.”


Along with his brother, brother's son, sister, and her three children, Alareer passed away on December 6, 2023, after an Israeli airstrike in Northern Gaza.


Euro-Med Monitor released a statement saying that Alareer was apparently deliberately targeted, "surgically bombed out of the entire building", and came after weeks of "death threats that Refaat received online and by phone from Israeli accounts."


Despite the forces wishing to diminish them, the hope brought by storytellers of Gaza forever lives in their stories.


Perhaps it's fitting that If I Die, Let it Be a Tale is the poem that immortalizes Alareer. He was a poet, a human, a father, a brother, an academic, and a fighter. Indeed, his life did bring hope. It continues to do so.


If I Die, Let it Be a Tale by Refaat Alareer:


If I must die,


you must live


to tell my story


to sell my things


to buy a piece of cloth


and some strings,


(make it white with a long tail)


so that a child, somewhere in Gaza


while looking heaven in the eye


awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—


and bid no one farewell


not even to his flesh


not even to himself—


sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up


above


and thinks for a moment an angel is there


bringing back love


If I must die


let it bring hope


let it be a tale.



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