Refaat Alareer and the power of words

Refaat Alareer believed more than anyone in the power of words. 

Yousef M. Aljamal

“Sometimes a homeland becomes a tale,” Refaat Alareer observed in the book Gaza Writes Back.”We love the story because it is about our homeland, and we love our homeland even more because of the story.”

We live in a world that punishes the oppressed whenever they reclaim their basic right of telling their side of the story.

We live in a world that murders the voices of truth.

We live in a world that arrests writers who use their pens in the quest for justice.

We live in a world that shushes the wretched when they cry.

Still, we must keep telling stories.

We must tell stories of hope and truth with steady voices.

Dr. Refaat Alareer was a freedom fighter who faced the whole world with poetry and a whiteboard marker. He told stories filled with truth.

Dr. Refaat was my professor at the Islamic University of Gaza. I also took part in a training course he gave as part of the Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) project.

Being trained by Dr. Refaat was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

Piercing through silence

He introduced himself first as a friend, then as a teacher.

Dr. Refaat helped me to learn about myself through writing.

He taught us about the different types of writing. The different styles that are used for creative writing, for academic papers, for journalism and for poetry.

He believed more than any of us in the power of words.

He always urged us to write, to talk about Palestine, to share our stories, to imagine a free Palestine, to pour out our ideas.

He urged us to keep writing. To write back.

In Gaza Writes Back – a collection that he edited – Dr. Refaat stated, “Palestine was first occupied metaphorically in words and stories and poems.”

We are deeply rooted in our Palestinian heritage.

Folktales and other stories are a refuge to us all. They give us power when our suffering is particularly acute – like during Israel’s wars against Gaza and even during the current genocide.

This does not mean that stories avoid reality. Far from it.

Our stories are shrouded with the deepest sorrow.

We have stories about brutalized corpses. Stories about how Israel has sentenced the word “home” to death.

Our horror stories pierce through the suffocating layers of silence and shame enveloping humanity.

We tell stories and we write to protect our heavy and agitated hearts.

We find solace in writing, in the fact that somebody somewhere sometime on this earth will read our words, hear our voices and tell our stories.

Our stories are all connected parts of one original tale of truth and hope. The tale of the land.

We write because words are the truth. The echo of our words keeps on getting louder.

It will get louder until we break free of oppression and occupation.

Our words will fly high until they reach the stars and the heavens, where Dr. Refaat’s soul is sleeping peacefully.

Dear Dr. Refaat, I am sorry that I did not write enough. I am sorry I did not show you my writing.

Forgive me for thinking that my words were frail.

Now Palestine dwells in every curve I draw, every line I pen, every verse I recite and every story I tell.

Telling a story is no crime.

Alia Khaled Madi is a student and writer in Gaza.