Refaat Alareer was killed because his message reached the world

Refaat Alareer was remembered during a protest in Chicago this weekend. (Via Twitter)

As December unfolds, there should be a sense of hope and dreams in the air.

While much of the world does indeed feel blessed, this month marks another chapter of sadness and loss in Gaza. Israel’s cold-blooded massacres have persisted since 7 October.

Life often challenges us with the loss of someone dear and during this ongoing genocide I have lost many loved ones. But losing Dr. Refaat Alareer was especially tough.

Refaat Alareer, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza, played a pivotal role in my academic journey. I had the privilege of him teaching me poetry and Shakespeare.

He was not merely an educator, he was also a writer, a poet and a translator.

I recall my sophomore year when I enrolled in Dr. Refaat’s poetry course. Poetry initially felt like an enigma but little did I know that Dr. Refaat was the key to unlocking its secrets.

His teaching style only added to the intrigue. I was drawn into the challenge of exploring a new world with someone so profoundly passionate.

Every time Dr. Refaat entered the lecture hall, a hush fell over us. His voice resonated and each word carried wisdom and knowledge, leaving us hungry for more at the end of each class.

Dr. Refaat held a special admiration for William Shakespeare, passionately critiquing his works, whether poetry or plays. Hamlet was his favorite and he consistently urged us to attempt translating portions of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, making the course all the more intriguing.

“Read a lot,” Dr. Refaat always said, emphasizing that being a good translator or writer requires being an avid reader. Since then, I have never stopped reading.

Memories flood back

One morning earlier this month, I woke up to the unsettling sound of nearby artillery shelling and tried to connect to the internet for news updates.

I suddenly froze when I saw the news of Dr. Refaat’s killing.

In disbelief, I checked his social media accounts repeatedly, unwilling to accept that he was gone. His accounts had been inactive for two days prior to his assassination but I assumed it was due to connectivity issues that have become all too common.

Little did I know that the voice of truth embodied by Dr. Refaat had been silenced forever.

As I scrolled through his now-silent online presence, tears welled up at the sight of friends, colleagues, students and admirers mourning his untimely departure. Memories flooded back, recalling the valuable lessons he imparted during my college days.

I paused, staring at his posts about receiving death threats. His words for Palestine seemed powerful enough to attract strong hatred from some heartless people.

The spirit of Dr. Refaat was woven intricately with the love for Palestine. His words, like a constant melody, carried the name of Palestine, never parting from his daily life.

“It was always Palestine,” he once posted on Instagram. “It is Palestine. It will always be Palestine.”

Dr. Refaat dedicated himself to imparting the art of writing, showing many how to wield the power of words to amplify their voices. His aim was to ensure that even those who seemed to ignore our cause could not ignore the passionate cries echoing through the pages he inspired others to write.

He used social media as a platform for the cause of Palestine.

Carrying the weight of truth

For him, posting was a relentless effort that carried the weight of truth. Despite the inherent risks for someone in his position, he persisted.

Israel does not tolerate the existence of those who unveil its barbarism to the world. But Dr. Refaat remained undeterred in his pursuit of shedding light on the realities facing his homeland.

Dr. Refaat was killed because his voice, words and courage had reached the world, opening people’s eyes to the truth. Yet, even in his absence, the echoes of his teachings and the resonance of his unwavering spirit continue to inspire a generation to carry the torch he had lit.

The struggle for justice will persist, fueled by the legacy of a man who dared to speak truth to power.

As another poet wrote, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Even though Dr. Refaat is no longer with us, his story lives on. His death has sparked a bit of Refaat in everyone who loved him.

Anyone talking about Palestine now carries a piece of Refaat within them.

Our dearest Refaat, though we don’t know if you’re reading this, rest assured, you will never die. You live on in our hearts, souls and minds.

Generations to come will persist in telling your story, just as you wished. You expressed that wish in these masterly words:

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
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.

In the shadow of your absence, we won’t kindle fleeting candles that fade with time. Instead, we’ll ignite our pens and pencils, crafting words that pierce through the darkness shrouding minds oblivious to the truth of Palestine.

We won’t be silenced. We’ll continue to speak, forever weaving your story with the enduring tale of Palestine.

Asmaa Abu Matar is a writer and translator from Gaza.