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Palestinian poet with Harvard ties detained and ‘beaten’ by Israeli forces before being released, lawyer says

An acclaimed Palestinian poet who spent time at Harvard University as a visiting scholar was detained in Gaza by the Israeli military and “interrogated and beaten” before he was released, according to his relatives and supporters.

Mosab Abu Toha, 30, was separated from his family when he was taken into custody by the Israel Defense Forces near the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, his brother Hamza said Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“The army took Musab when he arrived at the checkpoint, leaving from the north to the south,” Hamza wrote, according to an English translation of his post. “His wife and children entered the south and the army arrested my brother Musab, and we know nothing about him, knowing that the American embassy sent him and his family to travel through the Rafah crossing.”


Abu Toha, a 2023 poetry finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, published an essay in the New Yorker magazine earlier this month detailing the travails of life in Gaza under constant Israeli bombardment, which was launched after Hamas terrorists stormed Israel on Oct. 7 and massacred some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 240 hostages.

Israel’s retaliatory bombing and ground invasion have killed more than 12,700 people, with another 4,000 missing, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank.

“Now I sit in my temporary house in the Jabalia camp, waiting for a ceasefire,” Abu Toah wrote in the New Yorker. “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.”

Dianna Buttu, a lawyer and former adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiating team who has been in contact with Abu Toha’s family, said Tuesday the writer had been released from custody and was receiving medical treatment for injuries he suffered during his interrogation.


“Update on Mosab Abu Toha: he has been released by the Israeli army,” Buttu wrote on X. “Israeli soldiers beat him and he [is] getting medical treatment now and with his family.”

Buttu said Abu Toha had been “taken to an Israeli prison in the Naqab where he was interrogated and beaten along with more than 200 others” before his release.

On Monday, Buttu said the IDF “kidnapped” Abu Toah as he and his family tried to flee the violence in Gaza.

“Update on Mosab Abu Toha: he was kidnapped — not arrested — as he was traveling along the so-called ‘safe passage’ to get to the south,” Buttu wrote. “Israel has bombed all parts of Gaza — not just the north. He was kidnapped along with hundreds of others — men and women — according to his family.”

Also Monday, Michael Luo, editor of the New Yorker’s website, posted that the magazine’s top editor, David Remnick, had sent a note to staff about Abu Toha’s arrest.

Remnick later informed staff of Abu Toah’s release, Luo wrote Tuesday.

An IDF spokesperson told the Washington Post on Monday that the military was looking into the writer’s arrest.

From 2019 to 2020, Abu Toah was at Harvard University as a Scholars at Risk fellow, hosted by the Department of Comparative Literature, according to an online biography.


“While at Harvard, he would like to connect with linguists on ‘developing dialogue across walls,’ and to complete a book of poems and stories presenting the life of a writer navigating the space between two opposing fronts, as well as share samples of the writing of young people and their experiences,” the biography said.

Earlier this month, Abu Toha, a married father of three, received the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry, presented by Massachusetts-based Arrowsmith Press, for his debut collection “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear,” published by City Lights.

On Tuesday, Arrowsmith Press celebrated Abu Toah’s release via X.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at