Refaat Alareer (1979–2023)

Let us continue to tell the tale. On December 7, 2023, Refaat Alareer was killed in his sister’s home—along with his brother, his sister, and her four children—in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike. Refaat Alareer was a father; a beloved professor at the Islamic University in Gaza (destroyed last month by Israeli airstrikes) who taught poetry, Shakespeare, and creative writing; a mentor; the editor of the story collection Gaza Writes Back and coeditor of the essay collection Gaza Unsilenced; a poet and writer; and the founder of the organization We Are Not Numbers.

He was also a highly valued contributor to “Life in Occupied Palestine,” a 2014 special issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly.

As the editors worked with Refaat and other contributors in the summer of 2014 to finalize that special issue, Israeli forces killed Refaat’s brother Mohammed Alareer during Israel’s fifty-one-day siege on Gaza. That special issue was dedicated to Mohammed:

“In memory of Mohammed Alareer, and every Palestinian whose life was cut short in the summer of 2014, and in the decades before, struggling against Israeli colonization.”

“A house of four floors but thousands of stories is no more. The stories, however, will live to bear witness to the most brutally wild occupation the world has ever known.” —Refaat R. Alareer

Almost ten years later, during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Refaat pinned to his X account the very poem that concludes his contribution to that special issue of Biography—and that has now been shared around the world:

If I must die

If I must die, you have to 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,
Making it blush under his gaze,
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 above
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.

Refaat Alareer’s essay for Biography, along with the entire special issue, is freely available on Project Muse:

We mourn his passing, and honor his vision for hope and liberation.