Now, two weeks later, Abu Toha has reportedly been arrested by Israeli forces, according to his colleagues.
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and activist who has been in contact with Abu Toha’s wife, told the Washington Post on Monday that he was trying to evacuate his family to southern Gaza when he was arrested by the Israeli army at a checkpoint, along with around 200 other people.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson told the Post they were looking into the matter.
“It’s very scary,” said writer Laura Albast, another friend and colleague of Abu Toha. “We don’t know where he is.”
The New Yorker issued a statement in its daily newsletter calling for the writer’s safe return and highlighting some of his recent writing for the magazine. Earlier Monday, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Michael Luo, wrote on social media that editor-in-chief David Remnick had sent a memo to staff regarding the “disturbing news,” saying that they “learned that he had been arrested in central Gaza. The New Yorker did not respond to requests for comment.
The magazine’s response seemed lukewarm to some of Abu Toha’s colleagues, including Albast. She said the magazine was happy to “diversify its portfolio” with the writing of a Gazan, but did not name who stopped it.
On Monday evening, the New Yorker published a short statement saying that “Israeli forces reportedly arrested a New Yorker contributor.”
“One idea in particular haunts me and I cannot push it away,” Abu Toha wrote in the magazine last month. “Will I, too, become a news statistic?
Abu Toha, in his 30s, has published in a number of journals, including Poetry magazine, Arrowsmith and the Nation, which published his latest poem, “Gazan Family Letters, 2092,” on Thursday. He also wrote an essay for the New York Times last month. After a visiting poet fellowship at Harvard, he earned a graduate degree earlier this year at Syracuse University, where he was also a teaching assistant.
This year, he was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Poetry Prize, for his 2022 collection, “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza.”
Abu Toha also founded the Edward Said Public Library in Gaza, the only English-speaking library in the enclave.
Buttu said Abu Toha had been in contact with the US government in recent weeks to obtain permission to evacuate his family from Gaza. The youngest of his three children, Mostafa, 3, was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen.
PEN America, the literary and human rights organization, wrote in a statement that it is “concerned by reports that poet Mosab Abu Toha, the founder of Gaza’s only English-language library , was arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza. We are seeking more details and calling for his protection.
Washington-based writer Jehad Abusalim has known Abu Toha for years and the two worked together on an anthology, “Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire,” published last year. Abusalim said he learned of Abu Toha’s arrest Monday morning on social media.
“His poetry and writing capture the persistence of life in the face of many obstacles – occupation and recurring attacks,” Abusalim said in a telephone interview. “Mosab means life to us. »
“Of course, you don’t have to be a renowned poet for your life to matter,” Abusalim continued. “But I think, for us, because we know Mosab, we’ve read his words, there’s that element of familiarity.”
On Monday, New Yorker editor Daniel Gross shared the poem “Obit” by Abu Toha, which the magazine published earlier this month.
“I keep thinking about this poem” he saidadding: “We are waiting for his return. »