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“If I am to die, let it be a legend!

“If I am to die, You must live, To tell my story, To sell my belongings, To buy a piece of cloth, And a few threads, So that a child, Somewhere in Gaza, While looking into the eyes of heaven, Waiting for his father going in flames, And while not saying goodbye to anyone, Not even his flesh, Not even himself, Sees the kite, the one you made, up above, Flying, And for a moment thinks there is an angel there, Bringing back love, If I must die, Let it bring hope, Let it be a fairy tale.”

I first heard of the owner of the above lines last week in a copy of Time magazine in Germany’s weekly Der Spiegel. The poem was written by Refaat Alareer, a poet and academician whose popularity resurfaced globally after Israel’s war on Gaza.

Refaat Alareer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree from University College London in 2007, and a Ph.D. in English Literature from Putra University in Malaysia, wrote the above lines during Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip in 2011. He reshared them on social media on the first day of November. These lines are now more meaningful, and their message today is more valuable, touching, and current.

Since 2007, he has been teaching literature and writing as a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza and founded a mentorship program called ‘We Are Not Numbers’, aiming to connect young writers in foreign countries and Gaza. This program also involved engaging with the works of Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet he described as beautiful yet dangerous. In 2013, he published a book titled “Gaza Writes Back,” featuring short stories by young writers from the Gaza Strip.

Alareer’s words about the Israeli poet once made the news in The New York Times. A NYT reporter attending one of Alareer’s classes wrote that despite his anger-filled social media posts against Israel, he praised a poem by the Israeli writer Amichai to his students.

However, a few weeks later, the NY Times had to add a note to the article. The poet described Amichai’s poem as “terrible” and “dangerous.” Following these reports, Refaat Alareer stated that his ultimate goal was to highlight the similarities between Palestinians and Jews. Israel, on the other hand, had used literature as a tool “to end colonialism and oppression.”

In an interview with BBC on October 7, 2023, he compared the Hamas attack to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Israel’s popular media outlet Jerusalem Post reported on this. I had previously written about the story of this ghetto, established by Nazi Germany in Warsaw, the capital of occupied Poland, during World War II.

Alareer was one of the leading young generation writers in the Gaza Strip who wrote in English and was a widely read literary figure. He defended Hamas’s attack on Israel.

In his last interview in October, he said, “There’s no way out of Gaza. What should we do… Should we drown? Commit mass suicide? Is this what Israel wants? And we won’t do that. I’m an academician. Probably the sharpest thing I have at home is a whiteboard marker. But if the Israelis invade us, go door-to-door killing us, the last thing I could do, even if that’s all I have, is to throw that marker at Israeli soldiers. We are desperate and have nothing to lose.”

In November, Alareer published the above poem titled “If I Must Die” on X, and it was shared by tens of thousands of people. In his other social media posts, he wrote about the genocide in Gaza and condemned Israel’s lies. A few days after the start of Israel’s ground operation, he announced his refusal to leave the epicenter of the conflicts.

If it weren’t for social media and some significant international publications, we wouldn’t have known about important figures like Alareer during Israel’s attacks on Gaza. CNN’s ignoring the human rights violations committed by Israel in Gaza started to change after a CNN employee lost nine family members killed at home.

This delayed bias was also experienced in the Gulf War. The American media eventually realized they were deceived in the name of patriotism, only after much blood and tears. Even the Western media will unfortunately be too late when they realize that Palestinians are paying for the sins of Nazi Germany.

Despite the media’s neglect and ignoring the truth, the magnitude of the suffering in Refaat Alareer’s last social media posts, made before a bomb destroyed his sister’s house, killing her and her entire family, is evident.

“The building is shaking. Debris and shrapnel are hitting the walls, and the streets are destroyed. Israel did not stop bombing, bombardment continues. Pray for us. Pray for Gaza.”

“We are wrapped in layers of gunpowder and cement. Every minute a few bombs and bullets explode. This is suffocating.”

Refaat Alareer was a successful writer, poet, teacher, and someone who was loved and respected by his students, as seen from their social media posts. His social media posts angered Israel as he refused to condemn what he saw as legitimate resistance against the occupation. He loudly declared his determination not to leave Gaza, even if it meant being killed.

The day before Alareer’s killing, the rector of the Islamic University of Gaza, Sofian Tayyah, a respected professor of mathematics and physics, was also targeted and killed with his family by bombs.

Israel’s targeting of Palestinian intellectuals and professionals, as well as schools, universities, and technical institutes, took the lives of many notable figures. If it weren’t for the courage of Gazans resisting the massacres and refusing to leave their lands in the face of Israel’s brutality, a second Nakba or a mass genocide in the Gaza Strip might have already occurred. Many vow on social media to resist the occupation until their last breath, preferring death over being expelled from Gaza, recalling how they were driven out of their ancestral homes in lands now in the south of Israel in 1948.

One of the most striking examples of Palestinians’ commitment to these lands is hidden in an interview with Dr. Hammah Alloh, who worked at Al Shifa Hospital. When asked why he didn’t leave the hospital to go south with his family, he replied, “Do you think I went to medical school for this; to think only of myself and leave my patients?” Dr. Hammah was killed in an Israeli bomb attack while on duty.

While the U.S. and its Western allies remain silent on the genocide in Gaza, the latest count shows that around 200 healthcare workers, including many well-known doctors, over 130 UN staff, 75 journalists, and numerous educators have been targets of Israeli bombs. More than 60% of those killed were children and women.

Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU, had invaded Israel on October 7 and committed unspeakable atrocities against civilians. According to the Israeli government, about 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage in these attacks. Hamas still holds 138 people.

Since that date, the Israeli army has been launching intensive air and ground attacks on targets in the Gaza Strip. There are over 18,000 dead in Gaza to date. The stories of hundreds like Refaat Alareer and Hammah Alloh will continue to emerge until this painful war in the Middle East ends.

Like Refaat Alareer, who tried to convey the drama and voice of his land to the world through social media before being killed with his family in an Israeli air strike on the night of December 4 in the northern Gaza Strip, said…

“…If I must die, Let it bring hope, Let it be a fairy tale…”

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.

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