Video: Refaat Alareer on teaching, resistance, and life under occupation
In a previously unaired interview from November 2014, Dan Cohen spoke with the iconic Palestinian educator who was killed by Israel on December 6.
I first met Refaat Alareer during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza through Twitter. He was in Malaysia where he was completing his doctoral studies. I, along with Max Blumenthal, had entered Gaza on August 14 at the beginning of a five-day temporary ceasefire to document the ongoing Israeli offfensive.
After crossing through the Erez checkpoint and dropping off our luggage, we headed for Shujaiya, the neighborhood where Refaat was born and raised. Located east of Gaza City against the buffer zone, Shujaiya (Arabic for “bravery”) had fiercely resisted invading Israeli forces, and had been punished with the full brunt of the its firepower. The scene of mass destruction was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Street after street of multi-story houses were wiped out, and those that remained standing had their walls blown out. Entire families, left with no other option, stayed in these uninhabitable homes.
Amid the rubble, we met Refaat’s relatives. One man told us four members of his family had been executed by Israeli soldiers.
As I continued to document the destruction of his neighborhood and posted images to Twitter, Refaat found a glimmer of hope in a refrigerator, where someone put containers of felfel red chili, which is typical of Gazan cuisine.
“Now I can tell life is starting to go back to normal in Shijia! Felfel/Chili is first to return back,” Refaat wrote on Twitter.
Months later, after Refaat had returned to Gaza, he invited me to sit in on one of his short story classes at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he taught English literature. I have included footage I filmed of his classes, unedited, for the historic record.
One of his brightest students, Nour al-Borno, performed a poem she had written in his class, which was featured in our documentary, Killing Gaza.
On November 21, I met Refaat at a restaurant in the Al-Andalusia mall in Gaza City. We discussed a wide range of issues, from teaching English and Hebrew literature to combat prejudice among his students, to the killing of his family members, to support for resistance in Gaza.
The interview has not been published, until now.
Rest in peace, Refaat.
Refaat Alareer teaches in his short story class at the Islamoc University of Gaza on November 24, 2014.