Israel has killed Dr. Refaat Alareer, impactful teacher, writer, activist

Helena CobbanAnti-imperialism, Blog, culture, Gaza, Israeli military, Palestine

We are sad to report that on the evening of December 6, the Israeli military killed our friend Dr. Refaat Alareer in northern Gaza, in what was apparently a targeted assassination. Refaat, born in 1979, was a beloved professor of English Literature and Literature in English at the Islamic University of Gaza. He edited a powerful anthology, Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories by Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (2014), and co-edited another, Gaza Unsilenced (2015). Both volumes were published by Just World Books.

Gaza Writes Back with four of its translated versions

When Gaza Writes Back was released, JWB and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) jointly organized a U.S. speaking tour for Refaat and two of the books other contributors, which brought the voices of these talented young Gazans to audiences in eight U.S. cities. Refaat had contributed three of his own stories to Gaza Writes Back— all of them, amazing. And in 2022, when AFSC co-published a new anthology on Gaza, Light in Gaza, Refaat contributed a thoughtful reflection on his life and his work so far.

Since the beginning of the current, massive Israeli assault on Gaza, Refaat has been a frequent participant in the thrice-weekly podcast/webinars in which the US-based platform Electronic Intifada has assessed the course and impacts of this assault from a number of perspectives. You can access the video records and transcripts of the first three of those appearances via this post on the JWE blog (He took part in the sessions on Day 3, Day 7, and Day 10.) His most recent appearance with them was on November 30. In it, he used the few minutes of power he had to report that,

We are fine; struggling like everybody else in Gaza, especially in Gaza City and the north, with barely any food, water sources, everything running out… What we need is electricity, fuel, cooking gas and flour. These are the four priorities. And we barely had any of these, and many people will not be getting any of this because there are too many people.

On November 29, he had been able to make a short visit back to the Tel al-Hawa area where he had previously lived, sharing some video of his tour on Twitter. (See right.)

When the news of Refaat’s killing started spreading on social media, Palestinian activists and their allies from all around the world started to share their anguish at this loss. Many of these Palestinian communicator had been either his students at IUG, or his mentees in the “We Are Not Numbers” communications program, or elsewhere– or all of the above.

Some particularly rich sources of information about Refaat’s life and legacy have already appeared. They include:

  • this essay by Max Blumenthal on Grayzone
  • this extended tribute to Refaat by the team at Electronic Intifada
  • a 22-minute assessment of his impact on Democracy Now, featuring an interview with his former student Jehad Abusalim.
  • the blog that Refaat and Just World Books kept about the 2014 speaking tour
  • this 15-minute video in which three contributors to Gaza Writes Back discussed, and gave readings from, the stories they had in the book.
Refaat teaching Wilfred Owen’s (strongly antiwar) poem “Futility” in the IUG lecture series

Another wonderful legacy that Refaat has left for the world is this collection of 28 lectures on English poetry that he delivered to a seminar at IUG back in 2019, which IUG arranged to have videotaped for wider sharing.

We should note at this point that, at IUG, the Israeli military have killed not just Refaat but also the university president, the widely acclaimed physicist Dr. Sufyan Tayeh. The Israelis have also deliberately demolished several of key IUG’s faculty buildings, including most recently its medical faculty. Those demolitions, along with those of Gaza’s parliament building, its central Municipality building, and numerous hospitals, schools, and other public facilities have all the marks of a deliberate, genocidal attempt to break the community’s social infrastructure completely.

My board colleagues at Just World Ed and I all send our deep condolences to Refaat’s wife/widow Nusayba, their six children, and their broader family. May the assassination of this brilliant and gentle man serve as further impetus for all lovers of Palestinian rights and Palestinian freedom from around the world to remain steadfast in our campaign to end the cruel horrors that Israel still– with full backing from the United States and other “Western” countries– continues to inflict on the people of Gaza and the rest of Palestine.