Friends, colleagues and admirers of Refaat Alareer, renowned Palestinian poet, writer and teacher, are reeling following news that he was killed alongside several of his family members Thursday in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City.

Alareer, 45, was a professor of English literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza, which was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in October. In addition to his own English poetry, which often protested Israel’s military campaigns and occupation of Palestine, Alareer edited two volumes of Palestinian short stories, “Gaza Unsilenced” and “Gaza Writes Back,” which featured work from young Palestinian writers living in the blockaded enclave.

Alareer’s death sparked an immediate outpouring of tributes from not only in Palestine but across the globe. His voice, which captured the often harrowing challenges of living in the blockaded Gaza Strip, and inspiring resilience of those who lived there.

“The loss of Refaat represents a particularly traumatic point in the ongoing decimation of Palestinian intellectual life by Israel,” said Saeed Teebi, a Toronto-based lawyer and writer, whose short story collection “Her First Palestinian” was published in 2022.

“Like every true artist and intellectual, he was both fearless and full of feeling. He was completely committed to telling Palestinian stories, which made him a target in a world that seeks to suppress and extinguish Palestinian stories,” Teebi told Ricochet. “During the 2023 assault on Gaza, Refaat became one of the main conduits for understanding the depths of suffering and inhumanity inflicted on Palestinians.”

“The loss of Refaat represents a particularly traumatic point in the ongoing decimation of Palestinian intellectual life by Israel.”

His work, he added, “was as significant as the brave journalists who were documenting events on the ground.”

Alareer was also the co-founder of “We Are Not Numbers,” a Palestinian nonprofit based in Gaza that sought to humanize and tell the stories behind Palestinians who are too often reduced to numbers or death tolls. The organization provided English-language writing workshops for young Palestinians in Gaza, and paired participants with six months of training and mentoring with experienced English writers.

The organization’s co-founder, Ahmed Alnaouq, confirmed Alareer’s death with a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Refaat’s assassination is tragic, painful and outrageous,” he wrote.

Alareer’s brother, sister and her four children were also killed in the strike on their house in Gaza City, where they had stayed despite Israeli military demands that the population evacuate south, according to The Associated Press. He is survived by his wife, Nusayba, and their six children.

On November 1, Alareer posted a short poem titled “If I must die” on X. It was the final poem he shared with the world.

Over the weekend, the poem was translated into dozens of different languages, and appeared on posters at pro-Palestine solidarity rallies across the world. On Saturday, hundreds of mourners attended a vigil for Alareer in London, U.K.

“If I must die,” Teebi said, “has already become a major symbol of Palestinian dignity and resistance.”

Storytelling as a tool of resistance

In the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7, in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 more taken hostage, Western leaders were quick to condemn Hamas and affirm Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Israel’s subsequent bombardment on Gaza has killed more than 17,100 Palestinians and displaced 1.8 million people, according to the territory’s health ministry, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region. In recent weeks, some of those same western nations, including Canada, have urged Israel to show restraint. Many critics, including Refaat, have referred to Israeli’s actions as a campaign of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Sarah Hagi, a Toronto-based writer, told Ricochet that Refaat’s voice was important “because he understood the power of storytelling in the face of genocide.”

Sarah Hagi

“He worked his entire life to not only become an incredible writer and academic, but to teach other Palestinians how to use storytelling as a tool of resistance. He nurtured so many of his students and brought stories from Gaza that may have otherwise been overlooked to the world.”

Alareer’s work, Hagi added, focused on life in Gaza, but “like all great writers and thinkers,” his writing felt universal.

“He was able to capture the reality of his life — not just as a way to show a broader audience what life is like as a Palestinian in Gaza, but so stories from Palestine lived even in the midst of death. To read his work was to feel like you knew and understood him.”

Writers and colleagues share memories

“Thank you Refaat for your humor & wit,” Canadian poet Rupi Kaur wrote on X. “Your words made me feel lighter. You said if you lived through this you’d teach other people’s poetry to your students. Now it will be us teaching your poetry to the world. You will live forever because of the courage you embodied.”

“Absolutely sickened by this loss,” Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein shared on X. “I was just now on his site reading his beautiful poetry. I feel such shame.”

Jasmine Hawamdeh, a Palestinian-Canadian artist and advocate, told Ricochet in a phone interview that Alareer’s has been difficult to process.

“He’s been a hero for so many Palestinians of the diaspora as an outspoken voice for our people,” she said. “There aren’t many people who are able to have their voices heard outside of the apartheid state of Israel. That’s what his work and his life resonated with so many people outside of Palestine.”

Jasmine Hawamdeh


Hawamdeh also believes that Alareer’s killing is indicative of a broader “targeting of storytellers, journalists, writers and artists in the region,” suggesting that their voices represent “a threat to the state (of Israel) and their policies.”

On Friday, a leading organization representing journalists worldwide expressed deep concern at the number of media professionals killed around the globe doing their jobs in 2023, with Israel’s war with Hamas claiming more journalists than any conflict in over 30 years.

“As storytellers in the diaspora, (Alareer’s killing) is a reminder of our duty to continue his legacy by creating and being outspoken,” Hawamdeh added. “I would encourage others to just absorb his work, and understand that Palestinian lives are valuable and things that could have been avoided.”

Willa Holt, communications coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), called Alareer’s passing “a tremendous loss for us all,” in a statement to Ricochet. “His work vividly conjured Palestinian life and resistance, and by all accounts his mentorship will be missed by countless students, peers and friends.”

IJV, an organization that describes itself as representing Canadian Jews who have a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights, held an event several years ago in collaboration with “We Are Not Numbers,” which sought to share the work of young Gazan authors with a broader audience.

“His honesty and conveyance of the emotional weight of living under occupation struck the hearts of many outside of Gaza. His loss is another step towards the silencing of Gaza, and of Palestinian life more broadly,” Holt states. “IJV mourns this loss as one of many which are decimating Palestine’s cultural and critical fields.”

Alareer’s global impact

Over the past decade, Alareer often appeared in Western media, where he sometimes generated controversy for his fierce criticisms of the Israeli government and U.S. foreign policy.

In 2015, he delivered a TEDx Talk about the importance of oral history and storytelling in the Palestinian tradition. In 2021, during a major outbreak of violence in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, he published an essay in the New York Times describing his family’s experience of life under bombardment.

In 2015, Refaat Alareer delivered a TEDx Talk about the importance of oral history and storytelling in the Palestinian tradition.

Tedx Talks

“For Refaat, English was a tool of liberation, a way to break free from Gaza’s prolonged siege, a teleportation device that defied Israel’s fences and the intellectual, academic, and cultural blockade of Gaza,” Jehad Abusalim, an academic and the co-editor of Light In Gaza, an anthology of Palestinian writers and artists, reflected on X.

“He emphasized that learning a language requires understanding its culture and being critical and mindful that language is not free from questions of power and representation.”

In October, Alareer drew fierce criticism from Jewish groups for his rhetorical attacks on Israel, particularly his praise of Hamas’s October 7 assault on southern Israel. In an interview with the BBC, he described the rampage as “legitimate and moral,” and compared it to the “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

Following the outcry, the BBC agreed that “his comments were offensive” and said it did not “intend to use him again”.

“I am an academic,” Alareer said in December, during one of his final interviews. “Probably the toughest thing I have at home is an Expo marker.”

“But if the Israelis invade and barge at us, charge at us open door-to-door to massacre us, I am going to use that marker to throw it at Israeli soldiers even if that is the last thing that I would be able to do. And this is the feeling of everybody. We are helpless. We have nothing to lose.”

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