Renowned Palestinian poet and author, Mosab Abu Toha, has been detained by Israeli forces during his attempt to leave Gaza, his family and friends confirm. Abu Toha, accompanied by his family, was en route to the Rafah crossing point on Sunday, having received assurance from US officials that they would be allowed to enter Egypt. Unfortunately, they were stopped and apprehended at an Israeli military checkpoint along with other Palestinian men.
The poet’s brother, Hamza, explained via social media that the army intercepted Abu Toha as he was complying with their orders to travel from north to south Gaza. “The American embassy sent him and his family to go through the Rafah crossing,” Hamza stated. “We have heard nothing from him since.”
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian-Canadian lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, revealed that while Abu Toha’s son, an American citizen, had already been cleared for evacuation weeks ago, the poet’s name was not initially included on the list. After considerable efforts, their names were added, and they were patiently awaiting an opportunity to depart when they were intercepted at the checkpoint. The Israeli army instructed everyone to raise their arms, and in the process of complying, Abu Toha was seized, along with around 200 other men. Since then, his wife has not been able to establish contact with him.
Despite inquiries made to the US State Department and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), neither entity has responded to requests for comment in relation to Abu Toha’s situation.
This distressing incident occurred while Abu Toha was in the midst of chronicling his experiences during the bombardment of Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza in an article for the New Yorker magazine. In addition, he has garnered critical acclaim for his published poetry collection in English, reaching the finals of the National Book Critics Circle award and emerging as the winner of an American Book award this year.
“Distinguished for his immense contributions to our literary landscape,” Buttu remarked, “Abu Toha’s accolades and recognition demonstrate the extraordinary power ingrained in his writings at such a young age.”
Laura Albast, a Palestinian journalist, editor, and close friend of Abu Toha, attested to the accessible yet poignant nature of his poetry. She remarked, “His verses beautifully depict the realities we face, recounting his attempts to navigate perilous situations while seeking refuge amid relentless bombings.”
Tragically, Abu Toha and his family, having already fled to Jabalia for safety, learned that their home in Beit Lahia had been targeted and destroyed. In his New Yorker article published on November 6, the poet described his bicycle journey to salvage remnants from his modest book collection. Regrettably, all he encountered amidst the debris was “nothing but the smell of explosions.” He concluded with a poignant reflection from his temporary residence in the Jabalia camp, expressing his sense of confinement and despair, stating, “I feel like I am in a cage. I’m being killed every day with my people. The only two things I can do are panic and breathe. There is no hope here.”
The New Yorker, alongside various organizations, is now demanding the safe return of Abu Toha, whose current whereabouts remain unknown.