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Tributes pour in for Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer killed in Gaza

Dec. 8: Tributes poured in for Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer on Friday after friends said he was killed in a strike on Gaza, despite his controversial remarks about Israel and Hamas, reports AFP.

Alareer was one of the leaders of a young generation of writers in Gaza who chose to write in English to tell their stories, with friends describing his defiance in the face of the Israeli army’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

They said the poet had vowed to “throw (his) pen in the soldiers’ faces” as a last resort if his house was stormed.

“My heart is broken, my friend and colleague Refaat Alareer was killed with his family,” Gazan poet Mosab Abu Toha wrote on Facebook.

His killing came as Israel conducted further strikes on Thursday evening in the north of the Gaza Strip.

According to AFP report, Alareer had said a few days after Israel began its ground offensive in October that he refused to leave northern Gaza, the centre of the fighting at the time.

“The whole family had asked him to leave because it was so dangerous, but he always replied ‘I’m only an academic, a civilian, at home. I’m not leaving’,” his friend Mohamed Al Arair, a history teacher in Shejaiya to the east of Gaza City, told AFP.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Alareer documented daily life under Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

“We are enveloped in thick layers of gunpowder and cement,” he posted in one of his last messages, on December 4.

“Many are still trapped in Shejaiya including some of my children and family members,” he wrote the same day.

“There’s nowhere safe in Gaza, so he chose to stay in his house,” his friend Arair said, describing how others had left for the south only to be killed by Israeli forces.

“Refaat’s assassination is tragic, painful and outrageous. It is a huge loss,” his friend Ahmed Alnaouq wrote on X.

Alareer was a professor of English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he taught Shakespeare among other subjects.

Soon after the October 7 Hamas attack, Alareer triggered outrage during a BBC interview by calling it “legitimate and moral” and “exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”, the broadcaster said.

The 1943 uprising saw hundreds of Jews launch a futile revolt against their Nazi oppressors, with 14,000 Jews killed during and immediately after the uprising.

Alareer also rejected accounts of Hamas militants raping victims of the October 7 attack, writing on X: “ALL the rape/sexual violence allegations are lies. Israel uses them as smokescreens to justify the Gaza genocide.”

More than 17,400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Alareer was one of the co-founders of the “We are not numbers” project, which pairs authors from Gaza with mentors abroad who help them write stories in English about their experiences.

The Literary Hub website paid tribute to him, while author and journalist Ramzy Baroud wrote on X: “Rest in peace Refaat Alareer. We will continue to be guided by your wisdom, today and for eternity.”

In November, Alareer published a poem on X entitled “If I must die” that was shared tens of thousands of times. It concludes with the words: “If I must die, let it bring hope, let it be a tale”.

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