We express our shock, anger and deep sadness at the murder by Israeli occupation forces of our friend and colleague Dr. Refaat Alareer in an airstrike in Gaza City on 6 December.
Refaat was killed along with his brother, his brother’s son, his sister and three of her children, and a neighbor when his sister’s home was attacked. Refaat and his family members are now among more than 17,000 Palestinians killed in Israel’s ongoing genocide.
We express our deep condolences to Refaat’s wife, Nusayba, and their children and other surviving family members, to all his students and former students of whom he was so proud, and to everyone who loved him.
Refaat and his family had already been displaced within Gaza several times after his home was bombed in October.
A proud son of Gaza City’s Shujaiya district, Refaat was a professor of English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza.
He was a co-founder of We Are Not Numbers, a project launched in Gaza after Israel’s 2014 attack, to mentor and support young writers in the besieged territory to tell their stories to the world.
We are devastated by Israel’s murder of our dear colleague, friend and mentor Dr. Refaat Alareer (@itranslate123). Throughout this genocide, Refaat never stopped writing, supporting his students and bringing Gaza’s voice to the world. We will make sure it continues to be heard. pic.twitter.com/IZUdIJBkf5— Electronic Intifada (@intifada) December 7, 2023
Even under Israel’s savage and relentless bombardment, Refaat never stopped nurturing and mentoring his students and former students, whether it was to write poetry, or reportage for The Electronic Intifada.
Although he was not fearless, Refaat was brave. He continued to speak out even knowing that Israel was systematically targeting journalists, doctors and other intellectuals for extermination.
Just days before Refaat was murdered, Israel assassinated Dr. Sufyan Tayeh, the president of the Islamic University of Gaza.Refaat never lost his wicked sense of humor, continuing to crack jokes even amid what he called the indescribable terror of relentless Israeli bombing and shelling and the pervasiveness of death.
Knowing that no place in Gaza was safe, Refaat and his family adamantly chose to stay in Gaza City.
Over the years, Refaat encouraged and nurtured hundreds of young writers in Gaza, according to Yousef Aljamal, an author and researcher and one of Refaat’s closest friends and former students.
“The majority of young people [in Gaza] you see today on social media writing in English are his students,” Aljamal said on The Electronic Intifada livestream last month. “So he trained an army of writers and bloggers to write and to tell the story.”
Refaat edited the 2014 anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, published by Just World Books.
Along with Laila El-Haddad, Refaat edited the anthology Gaza Unsilenced, also published by Just World Books.
He also contributed to Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing and Michael Merryman-Lotze, published in 2022 by Haymarket Books.In his contribution to Light in Gaza, titled “Gaza Asks: When Shall this Pass?”, Refaat writes:
“It shall pass, I keep hoping. It shall pass, I keep saying. Sometimes I mean it. Sometimes I don’t. And as Gaza keeps gasping for life, we struggle for it to pass, we have no choice but to fight back and to tell her stories. For Palestine.”
In addition to Refaat, at least three contributors to The Electronic Intifada have been killed in Gaza since 7 October.
All three were Refaat’s mentees:Ahmed Abu Artema, a regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada, lost his 13-year-old son Abdullah and several other family members in an Israeli airstrike in October. Ahmed and his two other children were injured.
Refaat’s contributions to The Electronic Intifada were immeasurable.
His first written contribution remembered his brother, the martyr Mohammed Alareer, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his home in 2014.
Mohammed, who Refaat knew as Hamada, was beloved by thousands of children in Gaza for his character Karkour, a mischievous chicken on the TV program Tomorrow’s Pioneers.
Refaat wrote at the time: ”My brother will be martyr number 26 in my extended family; five of them were killed last week and had their bodies dug out of the rubble during Saturday’s 12-hour ‘humanitarian ceasefire.’”
He added: “We now live at a time in Palestine when a son lost, two kids orphaned, a young wife widowed must be compared to those who have lost ten or twenty family members at once. There is a clear attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestine, to make us leave and never come back.”
One of Refaat’s uncles, Tayseer Alareer, was shot and killed by Israeli troops at kibbutz Nahal Oz while he was farming his land in Gaza in 2001. A cousin, Awad Alareer, died after Israel delayed access to medical treatment when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Another uncle, Oun Alareer, was arrested and tortured by Israel in 1971. Refaat wrote of his uncle Oun for Scalawag magazine: his name “reverberates in our households in the hope of making up even a tiny bit of the pain his loss brought us.”
Through his life and death, Refaat Alareer was a shaheed or witness to the profound injustices that Israel has wrought upon Palestine and its people.
In his tribute to his slain brother Hamada, Refaat wrote:
“Israel’s barbarity to murder people in Gaza and to sever the connections between people and people, and between people and land and between people and memories, will never succeed.”
He added: “I lost my brother physically, but the connection with him will remain forever and ever.”
And so shall our connection to Refaat, who is immortalized by his words and through his students, who carry on his legacy of fighting for truth and liberation.
He wrote on 1 November: “If I die, let it be a tale.”Over the last two months of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, Refaat was able to join The Electronic Intifada livestream on four occasions.
Following the news of his death, we shared some highlights of those appearances on social media. You can watch them in the tweets below and hear Refaat in his own words:
“Expressions of intimacy and love are very difficult because they could be interpreted in too many different ways. And the kids know, they feel all the lies we tell them that it’s going to be okay, that the bombing is far away,” Refaat Alareer said on day 3 of Israel’s genocide pic.twitter.com/UOZicKCJDw— Electronic Intifada (@intifada) December 7, 2023
“We didn’t fail … We didn’t submit to their barbarity, we didn’t submit to their brutality … We get our pride from staying principled at a time when everybody is not … Everything we do, we have in mind that this is going to be our last,” Refaat Alareer told us on day 7. pic.twitter.com/r5ZDaiWzBf— Electronic Intifada (@intifada) December 7, 2023
“This beautiful sense of solidarity, of togetherness, of community, of coming together. It’s there. Israel is doing its utmost effort to break these bonds, to sever these beautiful bonds between people,” Refaat Alareer said on day 20. pic.twitter.com/c7pFfajKIz— Electronic Intifada (@intifada) December 7, 2023
This was the last time Refaat Alareer joined us on the EI livestream, day 55, a week ago. pic.twitter.com/TCKxoAp1i2— Electronic Intifada (@intifada) December 8, 2023
This article was updated since initial publication to correct the information about who was killed along with Refaat Alareer and to include mention of Gaza Unsilenced.