Celebrated Palestinian Poet Mosab Abu Toha Reportedly Seized in Gaza
One may wonder why Israel would kidnap a poet. The answer, though painful, is simple. In its genocidal war against Palestinians, Israel seeks to erase not only Palestinian lives but also their culture and heritage.
UPDATE: Mosab has been released. His release was a direct result of your relentless pressure, a force driven by both outrage and a deep sense of familiarity. While not everyone knew Mosab personally, his words, essays, and poems brought him closer to our hearts. Now, picture this: what if we felt this connected to every individual who has suffered — those killed, injured, or arrested? Consider if each one of them was a poet or a writer, as indeed some were. Imagine truly knowing each of the 12,000 souls we’ve lost. Grasping the enormity of this loss, the depth of this agony, is almost beyond comprehension.
Earlier this year, the Palestine Center hosted award-winning Gaza poet Mosab Abu Toha for a book reading. We learned today that Israeli forces kidnapped him while he and his family were fleeing the north. Our hearts are with Mosab’s family, and we pray for his swift freedom.
The last 44 days have shown Israel’s aggression, destruction, and bloodshed, revealing that this war is not just against a specific Palestinian faction or group. It represents a war of annihilation and genocide, a war of erasure. Israeli officials have referred to it as a second Nakba.
Mosab Abu Toha’s kidnapping is just one of countless instances of suffering inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has killed over 12,000 Palestinians — women, men, children, each with precious lives, dreams, aspirations, and stories. Palestinians have long struggled to convey to the world that they are not mere numbers. Our victims have names, their lives matter, and their existence is as significant as anyone else’s.
In these 44 days, I have received news of the deaths of dozens of people I knew personally — friends, relatives, neighbors, and classmates. I can’t bear to open my Facebook feed anymore, as it has become a place to announce the names and photos of those killed by Israeli bombardment.
The scale of killing in Gaza is unprecedented and deeply painful. Every Palestinian in Gaza has lost someone they knew personally. Today, Mosab’s kidnapping adds to this painful story.
The circumstances of Mosab’s kidnapping are unclear, but one can imagine the horror he, his wife, children, and extended family endured over the past 44 days. Like every Palestinian in northern Gaza, they suffered from lack of nutrition, clean water, and lived amidst constant bombardment and death.
Yet, like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in northern Gaza, Mosab and his family were eventually compelled to move south. Many Palestinians in northern Gaza, or north of the so-called evacuation line, chose to remain steadfast in their homes or in places where they sought shelter. This decision to not move south stemmed from a fear of leaving and not being allowed to return, a reflection of the second Nakba, and also because of the lack of safety in the south. In fact, many from northern Gaza, including the family of Al Jazeera correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh, were killed south of the evacuation line, despite seeking safety there.
The horror of Mosab’s kidnapping by Israeli soldiers is unimaginable. Recent Israeli arrests and kidnappings of Palestinians have demonstrated unprecedented brutality, abuse, and mistreatment.
One may wonder why Israel would kidnap a poet. The answer, though painful, is simple. In its genocidal war against Palestinians, Israel seeks to erase not only Palestinian lives but also their culture and heritage. From shelling the Great Omari Mosque’s minaret to bombing Gaza’s universities, libraries, historic homes, and ancient churches, targeting a poet, a journalist, or an artist is part of this genocidal war against an impoverished population.
Today, we hold Mosab, his wife, and children in our thoughts and pray for Mosab’s freedom and their reunion. We honor his words, shared earlier this year at the Palestine Center during his book reading of Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza.
Mosab has received numerous accolades for his writing, including the Palestine Book Award 2022, the Arrowsmith Press Award, and was a finalist for both the American Book Award 2022 and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He also received the Before Columbus American Award.
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Mosab contributed a chapter titled “Exporting Oranges and Short Stories: Cultural Struggle in the Gaza Strip” to the anthology Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, which I co-edited in 2022. Despite the ongoing war and constant bombardment, Mosab’s words have appeared in many US and international publications. His writings defy – and will continue to defy – the violence surrounding him.
The View from My Window—The New Yorker
“Obit”—The New Yorker
On the Cusp of Invasion, a Poet in Gaza Reflects on Trauma—The New York Times
Younger than War—The Atlantic
In his writing, Mosab captures the humanity and resilience of Palestinians despite Israel’s bombings.
His poem “A Rose Shoulders Up” powerfully exemplifies this spirit.
A Rose Shoulders Up
by Mosab Abu Toha
Don’t ever be surprised
to see a rose shoulder up
among the ruins of the house:
This is how we survived.
This article first appeared on The Jerusalem Fund’s website and is being reprinted with permission.
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Jehad Abusalim is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center. The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.