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The first time Mosab Abu Toha witnessed an Israeli airstrike, he was 7 years old. “I was decades younger than war,” he wrote years later in a poem, and “a few years older than bombs.” Now an acclaimed Palestinian poet and writer, he draws on his experiences growing up in Gaza in much of his work: In one poem, he describes escaping death at age 16 when a piece of shrapnel got lodged in his neck, narrowly missing his windpipe. In another, he tells of his first experience of war as a father and the fear his three children felt as bombs rained down.

Since Oct. 7, Abu Toha, 31, has emerged as an evocative chronicler of the ongoing war—from his experience living under Israeli bombardment in northern Gaza to his family’s efforts to flee to the safety of neighboring Egypt. Midway through their journey, he was abducted by Israeli soldiers who he says blindfolded and beat him. (“Detainees are treated in line with international standards,” the Israel Defense Forces told TIME.) When Abu Toha was released days later, he wrote a poem about that too.

From Mahmoud Darwish to Edward Said, some of the most notable Palestinian figures are writers and poets—something Abu Toha says is no accident. Before 1948, most Palestinians were farmers. After the establishment of the state of Israel and the war that ended with more 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or expelled from their homes, many lost their livelihoods. “When the Palestinians lost their lands, they started to invest in education. Education is the only thing that we can control.”

Mohamed Mahdy

For Abu Toha, poetry is more than just a mode of expression; it’s a bulwark against erasure. “Writing a poem is an act of resistance against forgetting—not only forgetting the story or the experience, but also the feelings that come with that experience,” he says. It’s also a means of sharing with those far beyond the besieged enclave where he grew up—something he hopes to do with his second poetry collection, Forest of Noise, when it is published later this year.

While Abu Toha currently resides in Cairo with his family, he says returning to Gaza is a matter of when, not if. “Gaza is my home,” he says. “And even if our house continued to be a heap of rubble, I would—with so much love—be living there.”

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