"If I Must Die," A Poem by Refaat Alareer

A poem written before the author’s death in an airstrike by the Israeli military.

Refaat Alareer Sinan Antoon

Protestors gather in memory of Refaat Alareer and call for an end to Israeli occupation Photo by Andy Soloman/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been slain in just over two months. One of them is writer and professor Refaat Alareer, who was killed in an airstrike by the Israeli military December 6, along with his brother, his brother’s son, his sister and her three children.

Refaat shared countless narratives about the horrors of the Israeli occupation and system of apartheid, and he mentored so many Palestinian writers, including Yousef Aljamal, whose essay about Gaza appears in our forthcoming issue. Yousef describes his friend as the giant of the Palestinian narrative coming out of Gaza.”

Refaat’s poem If I Must Die” has been shared widely since he was killed. On social media, an impromptu effort translated it into dozens of languages: Spanish, Italian, Tamil, Urdu, Tagalog, Greek, Japanese, Yiddish and more. Here, we offer it in English and Arabic.

—Ari Bloomekatz



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

فال بد أن تعيش أنت 

رفعت العرعير

إذا كان لا بد أن أموت 

فال بد أن تعيش أنت 

لتروي حكايتي

لتبيع أشيائي

وتشتري قطعة قماش 


(فلتكن بيضاء وبذيل طويل) 

كي يبصر طفل في مكان ما من ّغّزة 

وهو يح ّّدق في السماء 

منتظرًاً أباه الذي رحل فجأة 

دون أن يودع أحدًاً 

وال حتى لحمه 

أو ذاته

يبصر الطائرة الورقّية 

طائرتي الورقية التي صنعَتها أنت

تحّلق في الأعالي 

ويظ ّّن للحظة أن هناك مالكًاً 

يعيد الحب

إذا كان لا بد أن أموت 

فليأ ِِت موتي باألمل 

فليصبح حكاية

ترجمة سنان أنطون 

Translation by Sinan Antoon

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Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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