Refaat Alareer’s daughter and grandchild have been killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Dan Sheehan

April 26, 2024, 12:25pm

Shaimaa Alareer, an accomplished Palestinian illustrator and the eldest daughter of the murdered poet Refaat Alareer, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on her home in the Al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City earlier today. The attack also claimed the lives of her husband, Mohammed Siyam, an engineer, and their infant son, Abdul Rahman.

Up until his death (in a targeted Israeli airstrike on December 7), Refaat Alareer was a beloved poet, professor, and activist who taught literature at the (now destroyed) Islamic University of Gaza. 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 months since his death, Alareer’s poem “If I Must Die” has become both a source of solace and a rallying cry for hundreds of thousands of people around the world—people who hope, as Refaat and his daughter hoped, to someday see an end to the decades-long subjugation and slaughter of the Palestinian people.

Less known than the words of the poem themselves is the fact that Refaat wrote “If I Must Die” for Shaimaa. As he detailed in his introduction to Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (2014):

Now when I tell my daughter stories, I usually have in mind the generous Jewish hosts in Atlanta, whose five-year-old sweet daughter, Viola, kept asking me about optical illusions. I never gave Viola an answer to her question, because every time she asked it, my mind went to Shymaa, wishing she and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children had not been deprived by Israel of their right to live a decent life. Sometimes I think we may one day find it in our hearts to forgive Israeli leaders (when, among other things, occupation ends, apartheid is abolished, justice prevails, equal rights are guaranteed to all, refugees return, and reparations are made), but I do not think we will ever forgive them for not allowing our children to live a normal life, to ask about optical illusions rather than who was killed and why and whether that noise was an Israeli bomb or a resistance rocket. I want my children to plan, rather than worry about, their future and to draw beaches or fields or blue skies and a sun in the corner, not warships, pillars of smoke, warplanes, and guns. Hopefully, the stories of Gaza Writes Back will help bring my daughter Shymaa and Viola together and give them consolation and solace to continue the struggle until Palestine is free. Until then, I will continue telling her stories.


If I Must Die

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


Refaat’s first grandchild, the infant boy he didn’t get the chance to meet, will never look to the sky for a kite again. Nor will the 15,000 other children killed in Gaza in the past six and a half months. Shaimaa will never again find comfort in her late father’s words, or pass on his stories, or read his poems aloud to her husband and baby in rare moments of calm. There will be no normal lives for those maimed and traumatized children left behind in Gaza’s ruins. No optical illusions to them pour over. No tales to tell but this horror story, the ending of which still seems so very far away.

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