Despite the long years of siege and repeated wars, the besieged Gaza Strip has witnessed during the past years a distinguished and busy artistic and cultural activity, including literature, plastic arts, music, performing arts and drama. Despite the occupation tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip and preventing the entry of most artistic tools and resources, Gaza’s artists were always able to resist, by creating different and innovative artistic forms and alternative ways of expression that formed a source of breathing space in a large open prison whose residents could not leave except through their creativity in the different fields, which Help them make their voices heard in the world, and empower them to tell and express their stories in different ways.
Throughout history, culture, art, and the recording and telling of oral history; They are all essential tributaries of resistance and the rooting of identity, and this is what the occupying state is well aware of and seeks to erase, being aware of the importance of the arts in resistance alongside armed resistance. For more than 75 years, the Israeli occupation has killed dozens Palestinian poets and artistsSome of them were deliberately killed, such as the most famous poet and novelist Ghassan Kanafani, or those who fell victim to successive Israeli attacks.
Today, after more than 100 days of war on the Gaza Strip, we have witnessed the fall of dozens of martyrs among Gaza’s intellectuals and artists. Their number was estimated, according to a report by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, at more than forty who work in the cultural sector, including creators and writers, in the Gaza Strip, in addition to four others in The bank. Alongside the tragedy of death, we live with the martyrdom of each artist, another tragedy that leaves us wondering about the possibilities of lives that were cut short in their infancy, about the poems that were not written, the stories that were not told, and the colors that were left to dry before they touched a painting, because their owner was killed and there was no weapon in them. His hand is not a pen or a pen. These are not just a number, but rather stories and anecdotes that this report may not have enough space to tell.
We are not numbers
“The city's night is dark except for the glow of missiles… silent except for the sound of bombing…
Scary except for the reassurance of prayer..
Black except from the light of the martyrs..
Good night, Gaza.
Heba Abu Nada
These painful words were the last publication of the Palestinian poet and writer Heba Abu Nada, who was killed by Israeli occupation forces in an air strike on her home a few days after publishing her words. In 2017, Heba Abu Nada won second place in the novel category in the twentieth session of the Sharjah Arab Creativity Competition for her novel “Oxygen is not for the dead.” She was also keen to work with children during the science club at the Center for Gifted Children in Gaza.
Heba Abu Nada was not the only one. During the past three months, dozens of writers, artists, and poets from the people of Gaza were martyred, each of them killed before his story could be told. Writers and artists in Gaza have realized the importance of art in communicating their voices to the world, and this was evident in the “We Are Not Numbers” program, which was co-founded by a group of writers and journalists in Gaza in 2015, and adopted by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Observatory with the aim of developing a new generation of young writers in Gaza. To write their stories in English and bring their voices to the world. The program, which began by training 40 male and female writers, brought the number of participants to more than 300 participants. During the current war on the Gaza Strip, four of the program’s writers have been martyred so far: Muhammad Zaher Hamo, who was martyred with his father and brothers, Youssef Maher Dawwas, Mahmoud Al-Naouq, and Hoda Al-Susi, as well as Rifaat Al-Arair, one of the program’s founders.
If there is no need for death, let my death become a story
The name of Rifaat Al-Arair emerged as one of the most prominent people who realized the importance of literature and art in telling the story and conveying the Palestinian voice beyond the borders of the siege. His name became especially prominent after the famous Scottish star Brian Cox read his poem entitled “If I Must Die” following his martyrdom. The poem became a prophecy of his death and a dedication to a message he spent most of his career achieving.
Rifaat Al-Arair was not just a poet and academic who taught English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, but he was also the owner of a true message. He sought to convey the Palestinian voice in general, and the voices of Gaza’s writers in particular, through his passion for literature and the English language, which is the language he used as a tool for liberation and transmission. Ideas and stories outside the walls of the intellectual and academic siege imposed by the Israeli occupation on Gaza. He was also interested in documenting the oral history of Palestine, and emphasized his role in confronting the occupation.
Al-Arair edited the book “Gaza Writes Back,” a collection of short stories by Palestinian writers published in 2014. He also co-edited the book “Gaza Unsilenced,” which included a collection of articles and literary pieces about Israel’s 2014 aggression on Gaza. He also co-founded the “Gaza Unsilenced” program. We are not numbers” mentioned above.
Rifaat Al-Arair's name rose to prominence after the outbreak of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” events, when he defended the attack launched by the resistance, describing it as a legitimate and moral matter, likening it to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in an interview conducted with him by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The Warsaw Ghetto was an uprising carried out by the Jewish resistance movement in Poland in 1943 against Nazi forces.
A few days before his martyrdom, Al-Arair re-shared his poem “If I Must Die,” which he had previously published in 2011 as a pinned post on his account on the All over the world on their banners.
Their death will not be fleeting
“My name is Nour al-Din Hajjaj. I am a Palestinian writer. I am twenty-seven years old and I have many dreams. I am not a number and I do not accept that my death be passing news. Also say that I love life, happiness, freedom, children’s laughter, the sea, coffee, writing, Fairouz, and everything that is joyful, even though “These things will disappear in a moment. One of my dreams is for my books and writings to travel around the world, and for my pen to have wings so that no unstamped passport or rejected visa can hinder it.”
These were the words of the writer Nour al-Din Hajjaj in one of his posts on Facebook before he was martyred as a result of an air strike on his home in Shuja’iyya on the second of last December. Nour al-Din Hajjaj wrote two novels, “Strange and Strange” and “Wings That Do Not Fly,” and he also participated in the initiative “Cultural Passion”, the Cordoba Association, and the Theater Days Foundation.
Perhaps Nour al-Din Hajjaj, who was martyred before he was twenty-seven years old, was inspired by the poem of the Palestinian poet Salim al-Naffar, “My Beloved Ones,” which is a poem that shaped the conscience of Palestinian culture and is studied by students in the ninth grade (third middle school).
“We will come one day, my loves
On to our first things
No killing can keep us apart
“No time will forget us.”
The poet Salim Al-Nafar was martyred with his family in an Israeli air strike, and their bodies remained under the rubble because they could not be recovered. Salim Al-Naffar’s name is known as a prominent fighter, poet and writer who contributed to establishing the Cultural Creativity Association in Gaza. He represented Palestine in many poetry festivals. Among his most prominent collections are “The State of a Homeland” and “The Whiteness of Questions.” He also has a number of prose books and novels, the most notable of which are “The State of a Homeland” and “The Whiteness of Questions.” Camp Lanterns” and “Narrow Memory of Joy.”
Speaking of short memories of joy, those who followed the events may remember a video clip published by the young artist Muhammad Sami Quraqi on his Instagram account, during which he appeared with a group of laughing children, as he was trying to comfort them while they were in the Baptist Hospital, where hundreds of families were displaced with their children. And because the joy does not last long, only a few hours passed before the Israeli occupation forces bombed the hospital in a complete crime, and all the children who appeared in the clip were martyred, along with Muhammad Qariqi, the young visual artist who was not more than 23 years old, and spent his last hours using his art. In entertaining the children.
As for Omar Fares Abu Shawish, he was a promising poet and novelist. He published a novel entitled “On the Trader of Death,” in addition to a number of poetry collections. He participated in establishing a number of youth associations. He also won several awards, including the “Best National Song of 2007” award. At the International Festival of National Song and Heritage in Jordan, and the “Distinguished Volunteer and Ideal Youth” award in 2010 at the Sharek Youth Forum in Palestine. He also received the “Outstanding Arab Youth in the Field of Media, Journalism and Culture” award from the Arab Youth Council for Integrated Development of the League of Arab States in 2013. But this short, rich journey ended when he was martyred during the Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat camp.
If you have watched the films “Sarah,” directed by Khalil Al-Muzain, and “Bird of the Homeland,” directed by Mustafa Al-Nabih, you may recognize the artist Enas Al-Saqqa, an actress and writer who is considered one of the first female artists to work in theater in Gaza. She participated in a large number of plays. The theater workshops, who is also a mother of five children, were martyred with three of them in late October in an Israeli bombing, and her two other children were seriously injured.
The visual artist and head of the Fine Arts Forum, Thaer Al-Tawil, was also martyred along with his family. Among his most prominent works was a mural entitled “For Jerusalem” and the “Seizing Freedom” mural in solidarity with the heroes of Gilboa Prison. The Israeli killing machine also targeted a number of experts and academics, most notably Dr. Jihad Suleiman Al-Masry, researcher, historian and director of the branch of Al-Quds Open University in Khan Yunis. Journalist Mustafa Hassan Mahmoud Al-Sawaf was also martyred along with a number of his family members. Al-Sawaf was the founder and editor-in-chief of the first daily newspaper published in Gaza. He published a number of books and a collection of short stories of a political nature entitled “There Was a Householder.”
He also cited Dr. Saeed Talal Al-Dahshan, an expert in international law, whose book “How to Sue Israel” outlined a legal strategy for holding Israel accountable for its violations of international law. The occupation forces also killed Dr. Sufyan Tayeh, President of the Islamic University in Gaza, along with his family in the Al-Faluja massacre in Jabalia, Dr. Sufyan Tayeh holds a professorship in the field of theoretical physics and applied mathematics. He also received the Abdul Hameed Shoman Award for Young Arab Scientists, and was announced in November 2021 among the top 2% of researchers in the world, according to a study conducted by Elsevier Publishing and Stanford University. American. He was also appointed holder of the UNESCO Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences since 28 March 2023.
It is noteworthy that the Islamic University in Gaza itself was completely destroyed in an Israeli raid last October, and the university was the first institution of higher education to be established in Gaza in 1978. The university building was completely destroyed, as were dozens of educational buildings in Gaza, in an attempt by the occupation To undermine the future of Gaza, not just its present.
And erase the memory of the place
The bulldozing of the Palestinian cultural landscape is not limited to the genocide of the Palestinian people, but it extends to the bulldozing of the cultural and historical memory of the place as well, and the elimination of the cultural structure of the city by targeting museums, archaeological buildings, cultural centers and libraries, in a deliberate targeting of various aspects of civilization and history.
The census issued last November by the “Heritage for Peace” group, based in Spain, just one month after the beginning of the war, recorded the destruction of more than 104 important archaeological sites, including mosques, churches, museums and historical buildings that were destroyed during the Israeli bombing. Either completely or partially. The bombing also destroyed the city's central archive, which meant destroying thousands of historical documents that constituted an important resource for researchers in studying the Palestinian political, social, and economic reality during the past century.
The Israeli bombing also targeted a number of museums, most notably the Rafah Museum, which collected hundreds of tools and costumes related to the ancient Palestinian heritage. It also targeted the historic Al-Zawiya Market, which is considered a historical extension of the ancient Qaysariyya Market. The occupation also targeted the Church of Saint Porphyrius IV, which is the third oldest church in the world, and its construction dates back to the year 425 AD. The Shrine of Al-Khidr in Deir Al-Balah, the first Christian monastery built in Palestine during the Byzantine era, was also destroyed.
The bombing also partially destroyed the Al-Sayyid Hashem Mosque, in which the grandfather of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, Hashim bin Abdul Manaf, was buried, and the Grand Al-Omari Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Palestine and dates back more than 3,000 years. The area of the mosque was about 4,100 square meters, while the building area was 1,800 square meters. Square.
During its raids, the Israeli occupation destroyed a number of historical houses and palaces, most notably the Al-Saqqa House, which was built in the 17th century AD and is considered the first economic forum in Palestine, and one of the oldest houses that embodied the features of ancient Gaza, as well as the Tarazi House, Barquq Castle, and the Pasha’s Palace in which Napoleon resided. And the archaeological “Othman bin Qashqar” Mosque in the Old City, Al-Zaytoun neighborhood, east of Gaza City, which was founded in the year 620 AH.
Destruction of the city's cultural structure
The Israeli destruction extended to include cultural centers and libraries that formed cultural and artistic forums for Gaza’s intellectuals and artists, as well as students and children, the most important of which were the Samir Mansour Library, the Al-Shorouk Library, and the Public Municipal Library in Gaza, which was the largest and oldest, and included hundreds of Palestinian books, newspapers, and documents dating back to Before the Nakba.
The occupation also destroyed more than 23 cultural centres, most notably the Rashad Shawa Centre, which was the largest and oldest cultural center in Palestine, in addition to destroying the Orthodox Cultural Centre, the Gaza Center for Culture and Arts, the Hakawi Society for Culture and Arts, the Wydad Theater, and the Childhood Happiness Centre, in addition to destroying dozens of The most famous of the artistic ceremonies is the Al-Ittiqa Gallery on Omar Al-Mukhtar Street in the Al-Rimal neighborhood. Before the war, the sector included 76 cultural centers, three theatres, five museums, and 80 public libraries, in addition to 15 publishing, distribution and book selling houses.
The occupation army does not merely destroy a city and its buildings, but rather erases history and identity, which brings to our minds the first Nakba in 1948, which not only uprooted the population from their lands, but aimed to erase their identity from existence. But the difference is that we read about the Nakba in history books, but today we are watching it live, in audio and video.
- Report of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture
- Gaza Artist Killed With Her Children in Israeli Airstrike (hyperallergic.com)
- What does it mean to erase a people – a nation, a culture or an identity? In Gaza, we are beginning to discover Nisreen Malik | The Guardian (theguardian.com)