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Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

New year, new hope: Muslim Student Association volunteers at kite tribute to martyred Palestinian poet

Alexander Tang
Junior Yousef Salem flies a kite decorated with the colors of the Palestinian flag with his younger brother Younis, who is in first grade, on his shoulders. In Refaat Alareer’s poem “If I Must Die,” kites are a symbol of hope for Palestinian children.

Refaat Alareer was a revered Palestinian poet, professor, writer and activist from Gaza. An Israeli airstrike killed him, his brother, his sister and her four children on Dec. 7. He is survived by his wife and their six children, who are as young as 7 years old.

Alareer’s story is not unique. Since Oct. 7, at least 26,900 people have been killed, the majority of whom are women and children, and at least 65,949 people have been injured in Gaza as of Jan. 31, according to a live tracker from Al Jazeera.

Alareer anticipated his eventual martyrdom and wrote a poem titled “If I Must Die” in 2011. His poem and recent passing inspired two teenagers and 10 mothers to organize a kite tribute, an event for people to gather and fly kites to honor the dead Palestinians, on Jan. 20 at the Arab American Cultural & Community Center.

“The overall goal is to provide an event that’s accessible to everyone in the Houston community,” Aleena Gilani, a junior at St. John’s School and one of the teenage organizers, said. “I think we can all agree that the most important thing right now is saving lives [and] calling for a ceasefire, so bringing everyone together with that shared common goal is really special.”

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Two children stick paper kites on a poster made out to be the Palestinian flag. Each flag represents a life lost since Oct. 7. “At some point, a [death toll] becomes too big for us to comprehend,” junior Allen Jiang said. “That’s when visuals like [the flag of kites] come in handy.” (Alexander Tang)
President of Muslim Student Association and junior Yousef Salem shared that sentiment and encouraged MSA members to volunteer at the event.

“I was surprised when I saw a lot of people: Muslims, non-Muslims [and] non-Arab,” Salem said. “Everybody came.”

For Salem, the event was particularly important because it highlighted the ongoing situation in Palestine.

“Because we are living our life normally [and] in peace here, [some] people might forget what’s going on, but other people [can’t sleep] from the bombs dropping on their heads every single day,” Salem said. “People [are] losing all their loved ones. [The kite tribute] was a reminder [of that].”

However, there was more to the event than just raising awareness.

“[The event] was also fun because we had people buying Palestinian food, people dancing, people listening to Palestinian music and kids playing with kites,” Salem said. “So it was very positive from all sides. It was like a celebration [of Palestinian culture].”

Juniors Allen Jiang, Suha Almamun and Yousef Salem build and decorate a kite to fly. (Alexander Tang)

The kite tribute also featured poetry from the community. Dozens of people shared their original works inspired by Alareer’s poem.

“My favorite part was listening to the poetry and sitting down to listen to the speakers,” MSA member and junior Suha Almamun said. “These little kids are making poems and speeches and talking about these issues. It shows the empathy that we should have. [If] these children can understand it, so can you.”

Junior Allen Jiang was also moved by the heartfelt poetry.

“The poetry was so sad. All of [the poems] were really emotional. I wanted to cry,” Jiang said. “[There was] this little boy. He was 9 or 10, and he [was] talking about how, in Gaza, at least 100 people [have] died on both sides of his [extended] family. That’s crazy just from one family.”

Accompanying the poetry was a slideshow of the martyrs and a glimpse into their lives.

“[The slideshow] made me cry a few times,” Almamun said. “It was really emotional seeing all these innocent [and] normal people just like us [whose] families have died and been ripped apart because of this issue.”

The environment at the kite tribute was much different from the environment at school.

“It was refreshing to see people who care so much about this,” Jiang said. “[When] I’ve talked to [people] about this situation, a lot of them just straight up admit that they don’t care, and it’s really messed up. It makes me look at my friends differently, and it makes me question if I still even want to be friends with them. It does kind of make me lose hope.”

The Free Radicals band performs a funeral procession at the kite tribute. People watch as they march into the building playing their instruments. (Alexander Tang)

At the event, Jiang and Almamun met Lee Lever, the pastor for Houston Mennonite Church.

“While we were looking through [protest signs], [we met Lever],” Jiang said. “He talked about how this is a very simple issue and that it’s very sad to see what’s going on. He [called] it a genocide. After seeing so much denial and apathy, it was good to see someone who cared and had an objective perspective, [especially since] many Christians [support Israel].”

The event ended with a funeral procession performed by the Free Radicals, followed by an interfaith vigil that featured 13 leaders from a variety of faiths. Among them were Lever, Monica Villarreal representing the Indigenous Peoples, Alex McDonald representing the Quakers and Anna Rajagopal representing Jewish Voice for Peace.

“We have 12 collaborating organizations like Palestinian Youth Movement [and] Jewish Voice for Peace, [which are] really big organizations,” Gilani said. “At least 1,000, if not over 1,000, people have attended, which is far more than we would have ever expected, and we’re really grateful for that.”

Anna Rajagopal, a representative from Jewish Voice for Peace, speaks in solidarity with Palestine at the event’s interfaith vigil. “As Jewish people of principle and conscience, as people who will never let the work of Palestine die, we say ‘Yehi Zichron Mahapech,'” Rajagopal said. “May Refaat and all their memories be for a revolution.” (Alexander Tang)

Although the primary purpose was to bring the community together and have fun, Gilani hopes that the kite tribute will also lead people to take political action.

“We [had] a voter registration booth, organizations that do more intensive work and politicians speaking,” Gilani said. “We’ve been directing everyone to use their voice, [and] using your voice goes hand in hand with political action, whether [that’s] going to city council meetings, [calling] your representatives or posting on social media.”

Gilani’s work is not done as long as Palestine remains occupied.

“We still need a way to mobilize the Houston Community and people on the fence,” Gilani said. “Until we have a ceasefire and until there’s justice in the region, we’re going to have to continue doing [accessible] events like these to bring the community together and rally around [this issue].”

Follow @coalition.pre on Instagram to be informed about future events, and follow @bellairemsa or join the Remind @halabimsa to get involved in the Muslim community and advocacy for Palestine.

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    Yousef SalemFeb 5, 2024 at 9:20 am

    Well documented 👏