Speak up! We owe it to Refaat

A man takes a selfie in an empty hall

Refaat looked for inspiration everywhere. 

via Twitter

What can you say about someone like Refaat Alareer?

I’ve known Refaat since I was 10. I am now 33.

To describe him as a genius is an understatement. He was a source of many ideas. He was so humane.

Over the past days and weeks, he and I would walk every day. He always looked everywhere for inspiration. He looked at everything.

Anyone who knew Refaat, knows that he was a very solid man. Steadfast in unimaginable ways.

The day before he was killed he surprised me by telling me he felt tired.

“I’m tired of carrying water. I’m tired. I am responsible for 50 people.”

Refaat’s assassination is not just a loss to one family, it is a loss to us all. He was responsible for so many people, who sought him out for his wisdom and his ability to care.

We lost someone who was a voice of Gaza, who could convey the reality in Gaza.

He could have lived anywhere in the world. He didn’t have to stay in Gaza. He had the education and experience to work anywhere. He could have lived his best life somewhere else.

But he refused.

When I was out of the country earlier in the year, I remember telling him that I could get better job opportunities abroad.

He just said: “Or, you could come back here. You could do something here.”

So talk about Refaat. Write about him.

The last thing he said was that if he came out of this war alive, he wanted to concentrate on being a storyteller, he wanted to vent, let things out. That if God kept him alive, he would want to focus all his life to tell the stories of his people and their experiences and feelings.

Every day he and I would walk. We would go out to this or that area in search of eSIM cards or phone reception. You would find him climbing on top of high walls, lifting his arm up to get reception, putting himself in danger, just to convey a message.

He used to speak up.

Now we’re saying, speak about him. Because Refaat deserves this.

We all know about him because he used to speak about Gaza. All of Gaza needs to talk about him. The whole world needs to talk about him.

Speak up

I saw him after they bombed his house back in 2014. I saw how he went straight for the room where he used to keep all his students’ poems and stories.

They were all burned and scattered on the floor, and he would pick through the rubble to salvage what he could as if he was gathering treasure.

To him these stories and poems were the most precious memories of his beloved students. And he truly loved his students.

If you meet his students, they will tell you the same thing, that he loved them.

May God have mercy on him.

Palestine deserves that you speak about him. I personally don’t ask anything of the world because we’ve given up on the world. Gaza will speak for itself, we don’t need anyone’s help, because with God’s help, we are more than capable of saving ourselves.

But I do ask Refaat’s students and those he taught to write about him, because we are the ones who truly knew him for who he was.

The day before Refaat was killed, he and I saw a group of displaced people playing football at the Yarmouk football grounds in the afternoon. He wanted to take photos with the smoke of recent missile strikes rising in the background.

“I swear, the people of Gaza are hardheaded,” he told me. “The people of Gaza are hardheaded.”

He said it like an artist appreciating his work. Like he felt these people.

When he walked down the streets, he would advise random people, telling them where to go, where to be safe.

He never gossiped. He only spoke about what he saw with his own eyes.

And he saw a lot. That was why he would walk 25,000 steps a day.

One day, he found a dark, cold space somewhere. It had no light, no comforts, nothing. But it did have an internet connection. So he stopped. He wrote. He spoke out about what was happening.

That’s what he did.

Our people have been displaced so many times. Refaat and I went to visit the mayor of Gaza one day. He was stuck in the old city. The mayor and his family have been displaced three times. He has lost his son.

We’ve all been displaced so many times. My own family has been displaced four or five times since the Nakba. I have no friends left. I have no home.

But we bear it with dignity and honor. What has happened to us, has not happened to any other nation.

We remain dignified.

And none more so than Refaat. As we in Gaza have come to equate life with death, as we have come to feel that nothing matters any more, we must remember that Refaat always walked and talked.

His was a mission to tell the story of Gaza and its people. We honor Refaat by continuing that mission.

Speak up.

Asem al-Nabih is a friend of Refaat Alareer and one of the last people to see him alive.