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    These are the poets and writers who have been killed in Gaza.

    Dan Sheehan

    December 21, 2023, 2:23pm

    One of my dreams is for my books and my writings to travel the world, for my pen to have wings so that no unstamped passport or visa rejection can hold it back. 

    Another dream of mine is to have a small family, to have a little son who looks like me and to tell him a bedtime story as I rock him in my arms.


    Since October 7, Israel has killed at least fourteen Palestinian poets and writers in Gaza.

    If we think of ourselves as a global literary community, then these people were our fellow travelers, our peers.

    They—just like the more than 66 Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza in the line of duty; just like every one of the more than 21,000 innocent people massacred in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel over the past 75 days—deserve to be remembered.

    Here is who they were:


    Heba Abu Nada

    Heba Abu Nada

    Novelist, poet, and educator Heba Abu Nada, a beloved figure in the Palestinian literary community and the author of the novel Oxygen is Not for the Dead, was killed by an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza on October 20.

    In her final Facebook post, published on October 8, the author wrote:

    Gaza’s night is dark apart from the glow of rockets, quiet apart from the sound of the bombs, terrifying apart from the comfort of prayer, black apart from the light of the martyrs. Good night, Gaza.

    Abu Nada was educated at Islamic University, Gaza, where she was awarded a bachelor’s degree of biochemistry. She went on to receive a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from Al-Azhar University, Gaza. In 2017, Abu Nada won the Sharjah Award for Arab Creativity for Oxygen is Not for the Dead.

    You can read two of her final poems, translated from the original Arabic by Huda Fakhreddine, here and here.


    Omar Abu Shaweesh

    Omar Abu Shaweesh

    The poet, novelist, and community activist Omar Faris Abu Shaweesh was killed on October 7 during the shelling of the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza.

    Abu Shaweesh co-founded several youth associations and won multiple local and international awards, including the “Best National Song of the Year 2007” award at the International Festival of National Song and Heritage in Jordan, and the “Distinguished Volunteer and Ideal Young” award in 2010 at the Sharek Youth Forum in Palestine. He was also given the “Distinguished Arab Youth in the Field of Media, Journalism and Culture” award by the Arab Youth Council for Integrated Development of the Arab League in 2013.

    He published a number of collections of poetry, as well as a novel, Alā qayd al-mawt (2016).


    refaat alareer

    Refaat Alareer

    On December 6, the poet, writer, literature professor, and activist Dr. Refaat Alareer was killed in a targeted Israeli airstrike that also killed his brother, his sister, and four of her children. He is survived by his wife, Nusayba, and their children.

    Alareer was a professor of literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he taught since 2007.

    He was the co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced (2015) and the editor of Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (2014). In his contribution to the 2022 collection Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, titled “Gaza Asks: When Shall this Pass?”, Refaat writes:

    It shall pass, I keep hoping. It shall pass, I keep saying. Sometimes I mean it. Sometimes I don’t. And as Gaza keeps gasping for life, we struggle for it to pass, we have no choice but to fight back and to tell her stories. For Palestine.

    Alareer was also one of the founders of We Are Not Numbers, a nonprofit organization launched in Gaza after Israel’s 2014 attack and dedicated to creating “a new generation of Palestinian writers and thinkers who can bring together a profound change to the Palestinian cause.”

    Through his popular Twitter account, “Refaat in Gaza,” Alareer vehemently condemned the ongoing atrocities committed against his people by Israeli forces, as well as the successive U.S. administrations that enabled them.

    In the wake of his death, Alareer’s heartbreakingly prophetic farewell poem, “If I Must Die,” has been translated into more than 40 languages; it has been read aloud from stages and written on the subway walls; it has been printed onto banners and placards and flags and kites held aloft in ceasefire demonstrations around the world.


    Abdul Karim Hashash

    Abdul Karim Hashash

    The writer and Palestinian heritage advocate Abdul Karim Al-Hashash, along with many of his family members, was killed on October 23 in the city of Rafah. Al-Hashash was known for his writings on Palestinian folk heritage and his research on Bedouin heritage, customs, and Arab proverbs. He also collected dozens of rare books about Palestine, its history, and its heritage.


    Inas al-Saqa

    Inas al-Saqa

    Inas al-Saqa, a celebrated playwright, actor, and educator who worked extensively in children’s theater, was killed by an Israeli airstrike late October alongside three of her children—Sara, Leen, and Ibrahim. Saqa and her five children were sheltering in a building in Gaza City when it was hit by an Israeli air strike. Two of her children, Farah and Ritta, survived the attack but are critically injured and in intensive care.

    Saqa appeared in the 2014 Palestinian film Sara, which was directed by Khalil al-Muzayen and dealt with the issue of honour killings in the Arab world.

    She also appeared in the film The Homeland’s Sparrow, which was produced in Gaza and directed by Mustafa al-Nabih. The movie covered the Palestinian struggle from the Nakba in 1948 through to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Saqa is also remembered for her cultural work, including her association with theatre groups within Gaza.

    The Palestinian poet Khaled Juma wrote of Saqa’s death: “Today, my friend, the curtain has fallen…and the theatre’s stage has darkened.”

    Saqa’s final Facebook post was on August 27. In it, she spoke of her experience surviving Gaza’s past horrors: “Sometimes you look back and take a glimpse of your past… only to discover that you’ve come out alive from a massacre.”


    Dr. Jihad Al-Masri

    Jihad Al-Masri

    Dr. Jihad Suleiman Al-Masri died on October 17, succumbing to injuries sustained in the Israeli shelling of Khan Yunis. He had been on his way to join his wife and daughter at the time of the attack. Al-Masri was a historian and university professor whose contributions spanned generations. He served as the director of Al-Quds Open University’s Khan Yunis branch. He published numerous research papers on Islamic history and Palestinian oral traditions in both Arab and international journals.


    Yusuf Dawas

    Yousef Dawas

    Palestinian writer, journalist, and photographer Yousef Dawas was killed by an Israeli airstrike on his family home in northern Gaza on October 14.

    Dawas was also a guitarist and active participant in the We Are Not Numbers initiative. He wrote in both Arabic and English and produced several videos discussing various topics, including his dream of traveling and exploring the world.

    In January 2023, Yousef published an essay entitled “Who will pay for the 20 years we lost?” In the essay, he recounts the destruction of his family’s orchard by an Israeli missile strike in May 2022. The orchard trees produced olives, oranges, clementines, loquat, guavas, lemons and pomegranates, and its loss “destroyed an important piece of our past. Our family’s history. Our heritage.”


    Shahadah Al-Buhbahan

    Shahadah Al-Buhbahan

    The Palestinian poet and educational researcher Shahdah Al-Buhbahan was killed, alongside his granddaughter, by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on November 6.


    Nour al-Din Hajjaj

    Nour al-Din Hajjaj

    The poet and writer Nour al-Din Hajjaj was killed by an Israeli airstrike on his home in Al-Shujaiyya on December 2. He was the author of the play The Gray Ones (2022) and the novel Wings That Do Not Fly (2021). Hajjaj actively participated in the “Cultural Passion” initiative, the Cordoba Association, and the Days of Theater Foundation.

    This was his final message to the outside world:

    This is why I am writing now; it might be my last message that makes it out to the free world, flying with the doves of peace to tell them that we love life, or at least what life we have managed to live; in Gaza all paths before us are blocked, and instead we’re just one tweet or breaking news story away from death.

    Anyway, I’ll begin.

    My name is Nour al-Din Hajjaj, I am a Palestinian writer, I am twenty-seven years old and I have many dreams.

    I am not a number and I do not consent to my death being passing news. Say, too, that I love life, happiness, freedom, children’s laughter, the sea, coffee, writing, Fairouz, everything that is joyful—though these things will all disappear in the space of a moment.

    One of my dreams is for my books and my writings to travel the world, for my pen to have wings so that no unstamped passport or visa rejection can hold it back.

    Another dream of mine is to have a small family, to have a little son who looks like me and to tell him a bedtime story as I rock him in my arms.


    Mustafa Al-Sawwaf

    Mustafa Al-Sawwaf

    Writer and journalist Mustafa Hassan Mahmoud Al-Sawwaf was killed, alongside several members of his family, when an Israeli shell struck his home on November 18. Al-Sawwaf, one of Palestine’s most prominent journalists and analysts, wrote hundreds of pieces on Palestinian political affairs. He served as the editor-in-chief of several newspapers and was founder and editor-in-chief of the first daily newspaper published in the Gaza Strip.

    Al-Sawwaf also published a number of books, including a six-part series of articles, Days of Rage (2005), and a collection of political short stories, There Was a Householder (2017).

    He once said of his work: “I am close to people, their concerns, and their problems. If I praise the resistance, it’s because it deserves praise, and if I criticize another side, it’s because that’s the reality.”


    Abdullah Al-Aqad

    Abdullah Al-Aqad

    On October 16, writer Abdullah Al-Aqad was killed, alongside his wife and children, when an Israeli shell struck his house in Khan Younis. His final social media post read: “after today there won’t be any immigration, all respect to the people of Al-Shate’ Refugee camp and Al-Jala’ neighborhood who demonstrated stressing they are staying at their homes to the end.”


    Saeed Dahshan

    Said Al-Dahshan

    The writer Dr. Said Talal Al-Dahshan was killed by an Israeli airstrike on October 11. The strike also claimed the lives of his mother, wife, son, and two daughters, as well as his brother’s family. Al-Dahshan, who specialized in Palestinian affairs, was an expert in international law. His book, How to Sue Israel, outlined a legal strategy for holding Israel accountable for its violations of international law.

    In a tribute to his slain friend, Dr. Mohammad Makram Balawi wrote of How to Sue Israel: “It is as if he left us with a testament to seek justice from this criminal state and for the families of the Palestinian people.”


    Mohammad Abdulrahim Saleh picture

    Mohammad Abdulrahim Saleh

    Mohammad Abdulrahim Saleh, one of the youngest published poets in Gaza, was killed by an Israeli airstrike on October 10. Born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in North Gaza, Saleh was just twenty-one years old at the time of his death.

    Less than eight months previous, members of the the Student Council of the Islamic University of Gaza and the General Authority for Youth and Culture gathered in the conference hall of the Faculty of Science building at the Islamic University to celebrate the publication of Saleh’s debut poetry collection, His Hand Fell.

    In the aftermath of Saleh’s death, Dr. Ayman Al-Atoum (who wrote the introduction to His Hand Fell) posted on Facebook: “Today, Muhammad Saleh did not lose his hand, but rather rose as a martyr in Gaza. How narrow is the world and how wide is God’s mercy! … Our beautiful [Saleh] excelled in poetry, just as he excelled in the poetry of resistance, and I believe that the collection was built on these two wings.”

    In a tribute to the slain poet and his work, Dr. Al-Hassan Abdul Latif Al-Lawi wrote: “No matter how much we write about Muhammad Saleh’s poetry, writing will not bring him back to this world nor restore his home to what it was … May God have mercy on the Palestinian poet of Gaza, the young martyr Muhammad Abd al-Rahim Saleh.”

    This beautiful video, posted by Quds News Network on the day of Saleh’s death, shows a smiling Saleh, sitting on a rooftop in Gaza, reciting a love poem.

    “She tripped in beauty

    and a shining splendor burned me.

    And hers is a beauty that does what it may.”


    Saleem Al-Naffar

    Saleem Al-Naffar

    Saleem Al-Naffar was a renowned poet who advocated for peaceful resistance and whose poetry expressed the struggle of Palestinians to survive and to be remembered in history.

    On December 7, Al-Naffar and his family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in Gaza City. Born in a refugee camp in Gaza, Al-Naffar fled with his family during the 1967 war to Syria. Despite the death of his father when he was 10, Al-Naffar found solace in poetry and later studied Arab literature at Tishreen University in Syria.

    In 1994, his family returned to Gaza, where he published poetry collections, novels, and an autobiography in Arabic.

    His poem Life reads:

    Knives might eat / what remains of my ribs, / machines might smash / what remains of stones, / but life is coming, / for that is its way, / creating life even for us.”

    Al-Naffar once said: “I sometimes sing of our despair. But maybe people like my work because, even so, it never gives in to hatred or calls for violence.”

    You can read tributes to Saleem Al-Naffar here, here, and here.


    With thanks to ArabLit and the Gaza Ministry of Culture’s “Second Preliminary Report on the Cultural Sector Damage War on Gaza Strip” for providing much of this information. 


    Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that Heba Abu Nada was killed alongside her son. Heba Abu Nada did not have any children.


    Post updated 04/22/2024

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