A hand holding the book Light in Gaza against a background of bright blue sky with a few bright white clouds.

Gaza’s Dreams: A Review of Light in Gaza

Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing, and Mike Merryman-Lotze, is the hardest-hitting book I’ve read on Palestine so far. I wish I’d started with it, rather than Palestine: A Socialist Introduction and Except for Palestine. Unlike those, Light in Gaza didn’t wade through the political history of the region, which can be overwhelming for uninitiated readers like me. Instead, 15 authors each spend a chapter telling their own stories. How has the occupation impacted them? How have their families survived? What do they want readers around the world to take away from their stories?

Israel’s fear of knowledge

The poet and professor Refaat Alareer begins the anthology with a heartrending essay titled “When Shall This Pass?” Alareer writes about his time as a world literature and creative writing professor at the Islamic University in Gaza. He taught students to tell their stories in English so that a wider audience could see Gaza through their eyes. But Israel sees education as a threat—as terrorism, even—and they bombed the administration building of IUG, including Alareer’s office in the English department, in 2014.

Israel said afterward that they had destroyed a “weapons development center.” In a way, they did. Alareer writes that:

IUG’s only danger to the Israeli occupation and its apartheid regime is that it is the most important place in Gaza to develop students’ minds as indestructible weapons. Knowledge is Israel’s worst enemy. Awareness is Israel’s most hated and feared foe. That’s why Israel bombs a university: it wants to kill openness and determination to refuse living under injustice and racism.

Refaat Alareer, Light In Gaza, “Gaza Asks: When Shall This Pass?” p. 23

Remember Refaat Alareer

Horrors like this one leave Alareer despairing. He laments,

When will this pass? When will it be enough? How many dead Palestinians are enough? How many massacres are enough?

I recoil in horror and shudder as I write this—I am exposed, naked, and vulnerable. Reliving the horrors Israel brought on us is one thing, but disclosing your life and your most intimate moments of fear and terror, where you spill your heart out, is another. Sometimes late at night when insomnia hits, I wonder if it is all worth it, if anything will ever change.

When I was approached to write for this book, the promise was that it will effect change and that policies, especially in the United States, will be improved. But, honestly, will they? Does a single Palestinian life matter? Does it?

Reader, as you peruse these chapters, what can or will you do, knowing that what you do can save lives and can change the course of history? Reader, will you make this matter?

Refaat Alareer, Light In Gaza, “Gaza Asks: When Shall This Pass?” p. 25

Alareer and his siblings would be killed by an Israeli airstrike on his home two years after he wrote this.

A handmade kite against a dark sky with snow falling around it in slow motion. The kite reads: “If I must die / Let it bring hope / let it be a tale – Refaat Alareer 1979-2023” From @ashleyramosart on Instagram, taken during the 2/16/24 Hands off Rafah march in East Liberty, Pittsburgh.

Light in Gaza would have been bleak as it was, but the painful foreshadowing in Refaat’s essay—knowing that it would not pass—set the tone for the rest of the book.

The curse of knowing what’s to come

In “Lost Identity: The Tale of Peasantry and Nature,” Asmaa Abu Mezied speaks of Gaza’s rich agricultural history and how fewer and fewer people want to, or even can, make livings as farmers. She writes about Gaza’s shrinking farmland, but I could only wonder, “Is there any farmland left now, after over 100 days of bombing?”

Salem Al Qudwa shares an in-depth essay about his work in ethical, experimental architecture and its positive effects on Gaza’s quality of life. He shows pictures of the homes he’s designed and built for families. But I wondered, “Are those families alive now? Are any of those homes intact?”

Basman Aldiwari closes out the book with “Gaza 2050: Three Scenarios.” The worst of the three is a “no-solution scenario,” in which Gaza has a population of 10 million, with sporadic electricity and barely room to move. Aldiwari predicts that Gaza will have been “assaulted numerous times since 2021.” I can’t imagine that his prediction includes a bombardment of this magnitude. Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014 lasted 28 days and killed roughly 2,200 people. The May 2021 crisis lasted for 15 days and killed roughly 250 people. But Israel’s current bombardment has lasted 134 days, and they have killed over 28,000 people—so far. It is beyond anyone’s worst imagination.

The best-case scenario, in which Palestine is one secular, democratic state with people of any and all races and religions, seems like a fantasy. It felt good to read and to imagine the dream of what Gaza could be, but if a one-state solution were ever to take place, I think it would take far longer than 26 years to reach.

Light in Gaza: a snapshot

Light in Gaza was written only in 2021, but it was published for barely a year (August 2022–October 2023) before becoming outdated. I loved reading about how people have resisted through writing, building, celebrating, existing. But the bitter reality is that not even all 15 authors have survived between the book’s recent publication and my reading it. It’s not so much that Light in Gaza is earth-shattering on its own. Instead, Light in Gaza fills a poignant, essential place in the history of Gaza: what Gazans were facing before October 7th 2023, and how they persevered.

One thought on “Gaza’s Dreams: A Review of Light in Gaza

  • March 2, 2024 at 9:29 pm

    hi 🙂
    pls read 🙂

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    The gospel involves Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The fact that Jesus conquered sin and death (sin’s penalty) is good news, indeed. The fact that He offers to share that victory with us is the greatest news of all (John 14:19).

    The elements of the gospel are clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3–6, a key passage concerning the good news of God: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” Notice, first, that Paul “received” the gospel and then “passed it on”; this is a divine message, not a man-made invention. Second, the gospel is “of first importance.” Everywhere the apostles went, they preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Third, the message of the gospel is accompanied by proofs: Christ died for our sins (proved by His burial), and He rose again the third day (proved by the eyewitnesses). Fourth, all this was done “according to the Scriptures”; the theme of the whole Bible is the salvation of mankind through Christ. The Bible is the gospel.

    “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is a bold message, and we are not ashamed of proclaiming it. It is a powerful message, because it is God’s good news. It is a saving message, the only thing that can truly reform the human heart. It is a universal message, for Jews and Gentiles both. And the gospel is received by faith; salvation is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8–9).

    The gospel is the good news that God loves the world enough to give His only Son to die for our sin (John 3:16). The gospel is good news because our salvation and eternal life and home in heaven are guaranteed through Christ (John 14:1–4). “He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4).

    The gospel is good news when we understand that we do not (and cannot) earn our salvation; the work of redemption and justification is complete, having been finished on the cross (John 19:30). Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). The gospel is the good news that we, who were once enemies of God, have been reconciled by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God (Romans 5:10; John 1:12). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). The gospel is the good news that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

    To reject the gospel is to embrace the bad news.

    Visit carm.org and answersingenesis.org . Evidence for God abounds.


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