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Palestinian poet killed in Gaza bombardment

December 8, 2023 4:29 PM EST

FILE PHOTO: Destroyed and damaged buildings of the Islamic University are seen in the aftermath of Israeli strikes amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, October 13, 2023. REUTERS/Saleh Salem/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Refaat Alareer, a poet killed in an Israeli air strike last week, drew praise from Palestinian intellectuals for his writings on life in Gaza and condemnation from Jewish groups for his comments following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

The 44-year-old, who wrote in English, taught world literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza and edited two short story collections, "Gaza Unsilenced" and "Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine."

"My heart is broken, my friend and colleague Refaat Alareer was killed with his family," Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet and librarian from Gaza wrote on Facebook in a tribute among many from Palestinian intellectuals. "I don't want to believe this."

Alareer, a bitter foe of Israel, mocked victims of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas gunmen on social media and dismissed multiple accounts of sexual violence against Israelis during the Hamas assault as "lies and anti-Palestinian bigotry".

The Oct. 7 attack was the deadliest day for Israel in its 75 year history. In its immediate aftermath, Alareer, a father of six, said he and his wife had lost more than 30 relatives in different Israeli assaults against Gaza, which has seen multiple wars between Israel and Hamas since the Islamist movement took control of the enclave in 2007.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Alareer.

Alareer helped found "We Are Not Numbers", which connected young Palestinian writers with mentors to tell stories that go beyond the numbers in the news.

Israel's bombardment has killed more than 17,000 Palestinians in the Hamas-run enclave and internally displaced most of its population since the start of the war.

The latest escalation began when Hamas gunmen stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing more than 240 as hostages.

On both sides, most of the victims have been civilians and include babies, small children and teenagers.

In a BBC interview hours after the Hamas attack, Alareer said Palestinian resistance was "legitimate and moral" and compared the attack to Jewish resistance to Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"This is exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is the Gaza Ghetto Uprising against 100 years of European and Zionist colonialism and occupation," he said in the interview.

The comparison, which is sometimes made by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, drew outrage in Israel. The Ghetto Uprising, which began in April 1943, was the largest armed Jewish uprising in Europe during the Nazi campaign of extermination that killed around six million Jews. Some of the few survivors subsequently testified that they knew their act of resistance on Warsaw could not succeed.

"To call Oct. 7, the Hamas attack on Israel, a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is unbelievable," said David Silberklang, a historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem. "There is no comparison."

During the 1943 uprising, hundreds of poorly armed Jewish fighters held out against German forces for almost a month to resist a roundup of the surviving population of Warsaw's Jewish ghetto and transport them to Nazi death camps.

(This story has been refiled to fix the dateline)

(Editing by James Mackenzie and Nick Macfie)



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