GAZA – Tributes have poured in following the killing of renowned, and for some controversial, Palestinian poet and academic Refaat Alareer, in an Israeli strike in Gaza.
The 44-year-old Alareer was a prominent professor at the Islamic University of Gaza and one of the leaders of a young generation of authors in the enclave. He was killed alongside several family members by an air strike in Gaza City on Wednesday.
“My heart is broken,” Gaza poet Mosab Abu Toha said in a post on social media.
Alareer also co-founded the We Are Not Numbers project, which provides writing workshops for young Gaza Palestinians.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, his co-founder, Pam Bailey, spoke of a huge loss.
“A lot of people knew about Refaat, through his books, through his poetry. That’s why you are hearing about him today because so many people loved him for that,” she said, telling how he had humanised the struggles of people in Gaza.
However, Alareer had also stirred controversy in recent weeks, comparing Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7 to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
‘If I must die, let it be a tale’
Since the Israeli army began its relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Alareer remained in his home town Shujayea in northern Gaza, which he had previously described as “the epitome of resurrection that refuses to kneel to Israel’s barbarity”.
He regularly posted updates from the region describing how the heavy shelling was destroying Palestinian homes, businesses and lives.
“No matter how many tweets or livestreams you see, the reality on the ground is so much more terrible than it is on social media … We don’t deserve this. We’re not animals like the Israelis think. Our kids deserve better,” he said.
Weeks before he was killed, Alareer said in a post on X that if he died, the news should become “a tale.”
‘Legacy will live forever’
Many Palestinians remember Alareer for how he wrote and spoke about the liberation of Palestine and resisted Israel’s occupation.
Ahmed Nehad, a friend and former pupil of the prominent Gaza academic and poet, says Alareer’s “legacy will live forever”.
“He coached thousands of Gazan youth, men and women to write about Palestine,” Nehad told Al Jazeera. “I remember writing and reciting my first lines of poetry for him five years ago, and I remember how he loved to hear them, and how he always helped us.”
Sami Hermez of Northwestern University in Qatar told Al Jazeera that Alareer was “someone who spoke to thousands”.
“It’s hard when you have 17,000 people [dead], and we are unable to follow the stories of each and every one of them. This one touches me because I’m also a professor and writer just like Dr Refaat,” Hermez said.
‘They wanted to silence him’
But Alareer could also be controversial.
After Hamas’s unprecedented attacks on Israel on October 7, in an interview with the BBC, Alareer said the attacks were “exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” angering many Jewish groups around the world.
The uprising in 1943 was the largest act of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in occupied Poland during World War II. Following the outcry, the BBC agreed that “his comments were offensive” and said it did not “intend to use him again”.
Ahmed Bedier, from the NGO United Voices for America, said that Alareer’s regular interviews on television stations and radio shows, where he described what was happening in Gaza and the occupied West Bank to Western audiences, was the main reason that “[the Israeli army] wanted to silence him”.
“The international sentiment has begun shifting against Israel,” Bedier told Al Jazeera. “So they’re trying to silence any other narrative other than theirs.”