Reading for Refaat
- By Shailja Patel
Today, January 15, 2024, marks forty days since Israel assassinated Refaat Alareer, internationally renowned and beloved Palestinian poet, scholar, and professor of English literature at the Islamic University in Gaza. Refaat taught and mentored a generation of young Palestinians in Gaza to tell their stories to the world in English. Publishers for Palestine has declared this day a Global Day of Action, calling on people around the world to raise their voices against Israel’s genocide in Gaza by reading Refaat’s poems aloud in public. We responded. On Saturday January 13th, the Massachusetts Review celebrated the launch of our new special issue, Woman: Revisited, with a public reading at the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College. After the event, our editors, staff, and attendees gathered to record a reading of “If I Must Die,” the prophetic last poem that Refaat shared with the world.
Four months ago, Jim Hicks, our Executive Editor, attended the Palestine Writes Literature Festival in Philadelphia. Refaat was a featured speaker at the festival, but Israel refused to grant him permission to travel out of Gaza. “We kept his name and profile in our program book,” says Susan Abulhawa, Executive Director of Palestine Writes, “and we kept Light in Gaza [to which Refaat contributed] as one of our featured books.’ After the opening plenary, Jim was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow audience member, who handed him a black, red, and green kuffiyeh they had picked off the floor behind his chair. The kuffiyeh wasn't Jim’s. He took it to Susan Abulhawa, to turn it in for Lost and Found. “It’s yours now,” said Susan.
This kuffiyeh has become the collective property of the Massachusetts Review. It symbolizes our commitment to liberation and justice for Palestinians and for all peoples of the world. In this video, the kuffiyeh is the banner of Refaat’s poetry that we carry forward; it is the voice of freedom that Israel’s siege could not silence, and that Israeli and US bombs will not extinguish.
SHAILJA Patel is Public Affairs Editor for the Massachusetts Review