Not Just Numbers: Poets Killed in Gaza


For Grievers – Poetry

Poets are not more important that other people, but because they write we can “meet them” from afar through their words. In these dark days I have been meeting Palestinian poets through their words after their deaths. Their words are beautiful. I thought to share them with you so you can meet them, too. Their deaths are horrifying. You can be part of the work to prevent future deaths by sharing your horror about the bombardment of Gaza made possible with US tax dollars from which US defense contractors are benefiting. These calls are moving the needle of congressional opinion; a few weeks ago around a dozen lawmakers were calling for a ceasefire, but as I write this there are now 62. Are your congresspeople on this list?

To be clear, the loss of Israeli life and the taking of hostages on October 7th was also horrifying and the rise in anti-semitic hate is a real danger. Still I am taking inspiration from Jewish Voice for Peace’s powerful actions calling for a ceasefire and end to occupation as well as listening to the voices of the families of hostages calling for a ceasefire.

Hiba Abu Nada

Hiba Abu Nada was a Palestinian poet, novelist, and nutritionist killed in an Israeli airstrike on October 20th. She wrote the poem I Grant You Refuge on October 10th. Here is the last section of the poem:

I grant you refuge
from hurt and suffering.

With words of sacred scripture
I shield the oranges from the sting of phosphorous
and the shades of cloud from the smog.

I grant you refuge in knowing
that the dust will clear,
and they who fell in love and died together
will one day laugh.

Read the full poem at Protean and another at Arablit.

Refaat Alareer

From his Wikipedia page: He taught literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza and co-founded the organization We Are Not Numbers, which matched experienced authors with young writers in Gaza, and promoted the power of storytelling as a means of resistance. On 6 December 2023, Alareer was killed in an Israeli airstrike, along with his brother, sister and her three children, during the 2023 Hamas-Israel war. The Euro-Med Monitor released a statement saying that Alareer was deliberately targeted, “surgically bombed out of the entire building”, and came after weeks of “death threats that Refaat received online and by phone from Israeli accounts.”

This poem of his is circulating on social media:

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

The many posts of tribute are evidence that he was a beloved teacher.

Saleem Al-Naffar

The poet Mosab Abu Toha writes on his social media on 12/11: It is sadly reported that one of Gaza’s most prominent poets, Saleem Al-Naffar, has been buried since last Thursday with his family under the rubble of the house where he sought refuge in Al-Nasr Neighborhood in Gaza City. The bodies cannot be be retrieved. No one can check whether any person can be rescued.


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.

Learn more about his life and read poems here.

Mosab Abu Toha is a living Palestinian poet you should know.

You can follow him on social media and buy his book, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear. His poetry has been an inspiration to me in thinking about the Shadow Woman of Justice. Read more about him and his poems on the Academy of American Poets site.

Brookline Booksmith is coordinating a fundraiser to rebuild the Edward Said Library that Mosab Abu Toha created and was destroyed in the bombing.

Poet Solidarity

Are you a poet? How could you use your poet identity to prevent the deaths of poets in Gaza? I’d love to hear your ideas. Here is mine.

Because I have this fancy title of Poet Laureate of Easthampton, I thought about how I could use it lobby my Congressman Richard Neal (MA-1). I’ve been having the same conversation with the staff who answer the direct office lines for weeks. So I asked who is his arts liaison and directed my next call there.

My conversation with Chris, the arts liaison person, was different. He said he would share my concerns with his supervisor, Rep. Neal’s chief of staff. He suggested that I follow up with an email, too, which I did. And I will call him again to see if the message is moving along.

So you could put on your poet hat and talk directly with someone with perhaps more direct connection to your legislator. Asking who is the liaison to the arts community is a way to start.

Are you a poet in Mass Congressional District 1 represented by Richard Neal? 

Richard Neal often frustrates me on the issues but he is also be persuaded (maybe not all the way that I want him to go but he does move). I think he is sensitive to being called out for all his corporate fundraising.

Chris Cozzaglio is Neal’s Arts Liaison. He’s based in Pittsfield. His email is

Here is some of what I wrote as a follow up to him:

Poets don’t have lobbyists or PACs. We can’t afford to be the largest donors to campaigns like the country’s largest defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics were to Representative Neal in 2019. I am disturbed to think about how these defense contractors’ profits will grow in proportion to the brutality inflicted on the civilians in Gaza. 

But poets are the carriers of culture. As such their wartime deaths’, especially when they are specifically targeted, wounds a whole culture in ways that may be hard to measure but are still profoundly destructive. 

The horrifying bombardment of Gaza must not be allowed to continue. A ceasefire is urgently needed and I ask Representative Neal to sign on to HR 786 or at least make a statement. 

As the destruction of large swaths of Gaza show us there is more than enough military equipment being deployed in Gaza, so I also urge Rep. Neal also to vote against this aid or at least—the very least—to enforce and set conditions upon its use. Secretary Blinken has spoken euphemistically about a gap between intention and action by the Israeli government. There needs to be consequences for this gap existing.  

As I said when we wrapped up, if Representative Neal called for a ceasefire and vetoed the $14.3 billion in military aid, I would be more than happy to be part of any congressional arts performance. 

I have been calling Senators Warren and Markey, too. Warren has already called for a ceasefire, but Markey has not.

Let me know if you want to collaborate on some letters or actions or …. There is a march on Saturday, December 16th.

January Update: Thirteen poets are now known to have been killed.

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