Israel kills Gaza’s storytellers but cannot kill the story
What is taking place in Gaza is meant for the history books: an epic tale of a small nation under a long, brutal siege for many years, facing one of the greatest military powers in the world. And yet it refuses to be defeated.
Not even the legendary tenacity of the characters in Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” can be compared to the heroism of Gazans, living in a tiny stretch of land while subsisting on the precipice of calamity, even long before today’s Israeli genocide.
But if Gaza was effectively declared uninhabitable by the UN Conference on Trade and Development as early as 2020, how has it been able to cope with everything that has taken place since then, particularly the grueling and unprecedented Israeli war that started on Oct. 7?
“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Oct. 9. In fact, Israel has carried out far greater war crimes than the choking of 2.3 million people.
“No place is safe, not even hospitals and schools,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs posted on X on Nov. 11. Things have gotten far worse since that statement was made.
And because Gazans refuse to leave their homeland, the 365 sq. km Strip has been turned into a hunting ground of human beings, who are being killed in every way imaginable. Those who did not die under the rubble of their homes and were not gunned down by attack helicopters while attempting to escape from one region to another are now dying from disease and hunger.
Fully aware of the extent of its war crimes in Gaza, Israel has systematically targeted the Strip’s storytellers
Not a single category of Palestinians has been spared this horrible fate: children, women, educators, doctors and medics, rescuers and even artists and poets. Each one of these groups has an ever-growing list of the names of victims, updated daily.
Fully aware of the extent of its war crimes in Gaza, Israel has systematically targeted the Strip’s storytellers — its journalists and their families, the bloggers, the intellectuals and even the social media influencers.
While Palestinians insist that their collective pain — and resistance — must be televised, Israel is doing everything in its power to eliminate the storytellers.
The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement last week that at least 75 Palestinian journalists and media workers had been killed by Israel since the beginning of the war. This does not include the many citizen journalists or writers who do not necessarily operate in an official capacity. It also does not include family members, such as the family of journalist Wael Dahdouh or that of Moamen Al-Sharafi.
Aware that their intellectuals are targets for Israel, Gazans have, for years, attempted to produce more and more storytellers. In 2015, a group of young journalists and students formed We Are Not Numbers. This group aims to “tell the stories behind the numbers of Palestinians in the news” and advocate for their human rights.
A co-founder of We Are Not Numbers, Prof. Refaat Alareer, was a beloved Palestinian educator from Gaza. A young intellectual whose brilliance was only matched by his kindness, Alareer believed that the story of Palestine, and Gaza in particular, should be told by the Palestinians themselves — those whose relationship to the Palestinian discourse cannot be marginal.
“As Gaza keeps gasping for life, we struggle for it to pass, we have no choice but to fight back and tell her stories. For Palestine,” Alareer wrote in his contribution to the volume “Light in Gaza: Writing Born of Fire.”
He edited several books, including “Gaza Writes Back” and “Gaza Unsilenced,” which also allowed him to take the message of other Palestinian intellectuals in Gaza to the rest of the world.
“Sometimes a homeland becomes a tale. We love the story because it is about our homeland and we love our homeland even more because of the story,” he wrote in “Gaza Writes Back.”
Alareer reportedly refused to leave northern Gaza, even after Israel had managed to isolate it from the rest of the Strip, subjecting it to countless massacres. As if aware of the fate awaiting him, Alareer tweeted this line, along with a poem he had penned: “If I must die, let it be a tale.”
On Dec. 7, We Are Not Numbers declared that its beloved co-founder had been killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Alareer is not the only member of the writers’ collective to have been killed by Israel. Yousef Dawas was killed in October and Mohammed Zaher Hamo in November, along with members of their families, in Israeli strikes on various parts of the Gaza Strip.
In one of the workshops I did with the group prior to the war, Dawas stood out. Not only because of his unusually long hair, but because of his clever and pointed questions. He wanted to tell the stories of ordinary Gazans, so that other ordinary people around the world could appreciate the everyday struggle of the Palestinian people, their righteous quest for justice and their hope for a better future.
These storytellers were all killed by Israel, which hoped that the stories would die with them. But Israel will fail because the collective story is bigger than all of us. A nation that has produced the likes of Ghassan Kanafani, Basil Al-Araj and Alareer will always produce great intellectuals who will serve the historic role of telling the story of Palestine and her liberation.
This is the last poem shared by Alareer: “If I must die, you must live, to tell my story, to sell my things, to buy a piece of cloth, and some strings (make it white with a long tail), so that a child, somewhere in Gaza, while looking heaven in the eye, awaiting his dad who left in a blaze — and bid no one farewell, not even to his flesh, not even to himself — sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up, above, and thinks for a moment an angel is there, bringing back love. If I must die, let it bring hope, let it be a tale.”
• Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. X: @RamzyBaroud