Out of Gaza

At the beginning of the Fifth Gaza War, the Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer defiantly promised that if the Israeli Defence Force attacked his house he would ‘throw my pen in the faces of the soldiers’. A few weeks later, Alareer was killed by an Israeli airstrike on the building.

In the first three months of the fighting, over 27k Palestinians were killed in Gaza, almost all of them civilians. Four thousand children were killed in the first few weeks of the war. A third of all the houses have been destroyed, together with the water and electricity infrastructure, 300 schools, 26 hospitals and 88 mosques, turning Gaza into what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called a ‘graveyard’.

Out of Gaza brings together responses to the current crisis by fifteen Palestinian poets – Ali Abukhattab, Refaat Alareer, Hala Alyan, Farid Bitar, Tariq Luthun, Marwan Makhoul, Mohammed Mousa, Naomi Shihab Nye, Samah Sabawi, Sara M. Saleh, Deema K. Shehabi, Dareen Tatour, Mosab Abu Toha, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and Hiba Abu Nada, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike on Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

These are poems of rubble and resilience, death and resistance; about invasion, displacement, occupation, exile and bombardment. Angry with the world’s silence in the face of such tragedy, these poems bear witness to catastrophe and to the powerful determination to survive it.

A percentage of the sales of this book go to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Sample Poems

Refaat Alareer - 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

Hala Alyan - I don’t mean to hate the sparrows

I heard you in the other room asking your mother, ‘Mama, am I a
Palestinian?’ When she answered ‘Yes’ a heavy silence fell on the whole
house. It was as if something hanging over our heads had fallen, its noise
exploding, then – silence.
Ghassan Kanafani, in a letter to his son Fayez

I don’t mean to hate the sparrows.
I don’t mean to close my eyes and see fire, a flood of concrete,
leaflets the size of grotesque snow.
I don’t mean to rehearse evacuation that isn’t mine:
from the grocery store to the house, from the house to the river,
from the river to the airport. Here are the rules.
There is a road and it’s gone now.
There is a sea and you can’t drink its water.
How far can you carry a toddler? A middle-aged dog?
How far can you go in sixty-five seconds? Eleven?
If you have a favourite flower, now’s the time to redact it.
If you have a mother, now’s the time to move her to the basement.
If you don’t have a basement?
I don’t mean to profit from this poem but I do.
I don’t mean to say I but I do. Here are the rules.
The rules are redacted.
[         ] is [         ].
[         ] is a red herring.
[         ] is a billboard with 583 names.
Here are the rules.
I had a grandmother once.
She had a memory once.
It spoiled like milk.
On the phone, she’d ask me about my son, if he was fussy,
if he was eating solids yet.
She’d ask if he was living up to his name.
I said yes. I always said yes. I asked for his name and it was
[         ].
I dreamt of her saying:
[         ]
[         ]
[         ].
How deep in the earth can you burrow with your four hearts?
Here are the rules:
There is no bomb shelter. There is no ship.
You can leave. Why aren’t you leaving?
You can resist. Why aren’t you resisting?
On the phone, my grandmother would call me her heart.
Her soul. Her two God-given eyes.
She’d ask if I wanted to visit Palestine again.
I never brought her back any soil, but she liked one story,
so I’d tell it again, about the man I met at the
bus station, a stranger until he spoke Arabic,
calling me sister and daughter and sister and I told her how
he skipped work and drove me past the
gardens to the highest point and we waved to Beirut.
I waved to her, and later she said she was waving back.
Never mind her balcony faced the wrong direction.
Never mind the sea a terrible blue.
Never mind there never was a son. Here are the rules:
If you say Gaza you must say [         ].
If you say [         ] you must say [ ].
Here are the rules.
If there is a microphone do not sing into it.
If there is a camera do not look it in the eye.
Here are the rules.
You can’t redact a name once it’s been spoken.
If you say [         ] you must say [         ].
If you say Gaza, you must say Gaza.
If you look, you must look until there is no looking left to do.
Here are the rules. Here’s my mother-given name, here’s my small life.
It is no more than any other. Here’s my grandmother, dead for five years.
She’s speaking again. She calls when I’m not expecting.
Keef ibnik, she says. Where is he now? Let me say hello.
What could I say back? He’s good, I tell her.
I pretend to call a child from the other room.
I pretend to hear the sea from here. I wave back.
Here are the rules:
We bear what we bear until we can’t anymore.
We invent what we can’t stand grieving.
The sun sets on Gaza. The sun rises on Gaza.
On your [         ].
On your blue pencils.
On your God-given eyes.
He’s good, I tell her. He’s good.
He’s crawling. Mashallah, mashallah.
Together, we praise the sea and the son.
Together, we praise how much he’s grown.

Farid Bitar - Unexplained misery

The wars of Palestine are never ending
Insisting to never leave anytime
As the many years pass
As I get older than a stone
As the millions of olive trees uprooted

The wars keep coming back with vengeance
My nightmare keeps revisiting
I run away from it, seeking refuge in the woods
With a majestic lake greeting me camping
And the fog lifting at sunrise
Gaza keeps erupting with bunker bombs

I keep screaming, for the bombs to stop dropping
I keep praying for a miracle
I keep thinking this is a bad dream
And when I awake
From the previous day
Is just the same.

Mohammed Mousa - Gaza children play in cemeteries

Gaza children are being killed in cemeteries.
If you ask the kids, they won’t tell you
that they wanted to play amongst the dead.
They just thought they could play anywhere.
If you ask the dead, it may not matter if the children
intrude on their eternal slumber
when they trample
their sandy graves
with their bare feet.
It’s not polite for the assassin
to attack the dead
while their graves are scorching on a summer’s noon.
Gaza children always thought it was safe to play in a cemetery.
They thought
that there is no difference
between a cemetery and a playground,
and they played until
they tenanted the tombs in shreds.
Here on, there are no playgrounds for Gaza children
and cemeteries are always available.

Hiba Abu Nada - Good night, Gaza

Gaza’s night is dark apart from the glow of rockets,
quiet apart from the sound of the bombs,
terrifying apart from the comfort of prayer,
black apart from the light of the martyrs.
Good night, Gaza.

Naomi Shihab Nye - Green Shirt

His mother did not wash it for this,
for him to be carried dead by two friends
across the thirsty ground of Gaza.

That morning he put it on, she told him
he looked handsome, a fine deep colour
that lit up his skin.

Samah Sabawi - Questions the media should ask the people of Gaza

How do you bury your dead when you’re still running for cover?
How do you shelter from the bombs when they follow you like your shadow?
How do you dig through rubble in worn sandals and bare calloused hands?
How do you put together all the pieces of your loved ones?
Do you start with the head or the toe?
And do you always know where all the pieces go?

How do you operate on the wounded with no hospitals or anaesthetics?
How do you shelter at UN schools when they are bombed targets?
How do you cook with no food, no fuel, and no electricity?
How do you wash without taking your clothes off?
Are you that afraid of being pulled
From beneath the rubble naked?

How do you read to your little ones bedtime stories?
How do you shout them louder than the air strikes?
How do you calm night and day terrors?
How do you tell them monsters don’t live under the bed?
	Or, in the closet.
		But that monsters now occupy the sky?

How do you explain why you write their names on their arms and legs?
How do you tell them you want their corpses to be recognized?
How do you worship after the bombing of your churches and mosques?
How do you still pray?
And how do you still believe there is a God?

How do you drink contaminated water?
How do you share a toilet with fifty other families?
How do you go to sleep with eyes wide open?
How do you walk through massacres with eyes wide open?
How do you wish to die, so someone could close your eyes?
How do you say goodbye knowing it’s the last time?
How do you breathe when every heartbeat aches?
How do you find a light in this long dark night?
How do you find courage when our world is cowardly?
How do you see with debris in your eyes more clearly than our heads of state?
How do you find faith?
How do you find hope?
How do you not give up on humanity?
How do you cultivate life
Every single day
Inside death’s cradle?

Sara M. Saleh - Say Free Palestine

a meditation after Sean Bonney

for ‘I love you’ say free Palestine,
for ‘snooze the alarm’ and ‘snooze it again’ say free Palestine,
for ‘I need a drink, hold the ice’ say free Palestine,
enter your 6-digit pin here, then say free Palestine,
for ‘Are you seeing someone?’ say free Palestine and for
anything ‘pumpkin spice’ say free Palestine,
for ‘I’m freezing my <insert whatever body part here> off’
say free Palestine, for the ‘Great British Bake-Off and Love Island
and The Bachelor’
say free Palestine, for ‘separation of church and state’
say free Palestine, for ‘Twitter – I’m not calling that shit X’
say free Palestine,
for ‘the limit does not exist’ say free Palestine,
don’t say ‘rush hour’ say free Palestine,
don’t say ‘Happy Birthday’
say free Palestine, definitely don’t say ‘Australia’
say Land Back and free Palestine, say ‘sorry’
then say free Palestine
don’t say ‘humanitarian pause’ say free Palestine,
maybe don’t say ‘there are two sides to this story’
don’t say ‘conflict’ don’t say ‘collateral damage’
don’t say ‘eviction’ don’t say ‘self-defence’ –
just say free Palestine, say ‘you are a demographic threat’
then say free Palestine, for ‘bedtime lullabies’,
sing Dammi Falastini then say free Palestine,
say no justice, no peace,
from the river to the sea, then say free Palestine.

Dareen Tatour - The child and the sea

O sea
I am the child
I am a refugee to you from death and war, from shells and
I call out, with a wish in my voice, asking for mercy...
I hope to return to the homeland from deprivation.

O sea,
I am the child
tell me,
my breath didn’t move that soldier to declare his victory by
bombing my house and turning my body into pieces?

Mosab Abu Toha - What is Home?

What is home:

it is the shade of trees on my way to school
before they were uprooted.

It is my grandparents’ black-and-white wedding photo
before the walls crumbled.

It is my uncle’s prayer rug,
where dozens of ants slept on wintry nights,
	before it was looted and put in a museum.

It is the oven my mother used to bake bread and roast chicken
before a bomb reduced our house to ashes.

It is the cafe where I watched football matches and played –

My child stops me: Can a four-letter word hold all of these?