Palestinian poet and essayist Mosab Abu Toha, whose 2022 poetry collection Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza (City Lights) won an American Book Award and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist, has been released after being detained by the Israel Defense Forces, his publisher confirmed on November 21. On November 24, Abu Toha posted on X (formerly Twitter) for the first time since his detainment.
I’m safe but still have pain in nose and teeth after being beaten by Israeli army.— Mosab Abu Toha (@MosabAbuToha) November 24, 2023
I gave them all my family’s passports, including my American son’s but they didn’t return anything. Also my clothes & my children’s were taken and not returned to me. No wallet, money, credit cards
Abu Toha was separated from his family and detained by the Israel Defense Forces at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on November 19, along with an estimated 200 other Gazan men. Since then, literary organizations and individuals have protested his detention and called for his release.
Early on November 21, multiple employees at the New Yorker, which published essays by Abu Toha on October 20 and November 6, posted on X that New Yorker editor David Remnick had informed the magazine's staff that “Israeli military officials” had confirmed his release. Shortly thereafter, San Francisco’s City Lights posted on Instagram that he had been freed and was with his family in Gaza, citing a tweet from Palestinian-Canadian lawyer Diana Buttu.
Good news: David Remnick has just told New Yorker staff that that, according to two Israeli military officials, the poet Mosab Abu Toha has been released. 1/2 https://t.co/yjjTlCVe4S— Daniel A. Gross (@ByDanielAGross) November 21, 2023
Some promising news: Just spoke to editor David Remnick, who told me that, according to two Israeli military officials, the poet Mosab Abu Toha, who lives with his family in Gaza, has been released.— Michael Luo (@michaelluo) November 21, 2023
Mosab Abu Toha is a lifelong resident of Gaza whose 3-year-old child was born in the U.S. in 2020, while he was a visiting scholar of the Harvard University Scholars at Risk Program. Hamza Abu Toha, the author’s brother, said on Facebook that the American embassy had sent the poet and his family to travel through the Rafah crossing.
On November 20, City Lights released a statement saying, “We are calling for the international community to demand the release of Mosab Abu Toha, and all hostages and prisoners in Gaza and Israel.” PEN International wrote, “we join calls demanding to know his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention,” while PEN America wrote that “we are seeking more details and call for his protection.” Fellow poets, including Natalie Diaz and Omar Sakr, also expressed support via the platform.
Poet @MosabAbuToha was taken away from his family by the Israeli Defense Forces at a checkpoint in Gaza.— City Lights Books (@CityLightsBooks) November 20, 2023
Please join us in calling for the international community to demand the release of Mosab, and all hostages and prisoners in Gaza and Israel. pic.twitter.com/5IAgOfcMma
PEN International is deeply concerned by news that Mosab Abu Toha, Palestinian writer, poet, and founder of Gaza's first English-language library, has been arrested by the Israeli Defense Force while leaving #Gaza. We join calls demanding to know his whereabouts and the reasons…— PEN International (@pen_int) November 20, 2023
PEN America is concerned by reports that poet Mosab Abu Toha, the founder of Gaza's only English language library, has been taken into custody by Israel's Defense Forces in Gaza. We are seeking more details and call for his protection.— PEN America (@PENamerica) November 20, 2023
Our 2022 interview: https://t.co/rn1szUZVCR
In addition to his award-winning poetry and his essays on Gaza for the Atlantic and the New York Times, Abu Toha is known for founding the Edward Said Public Library, Gaza’s first English-language library. Abu Toha named the library after the Palestinian American postcolonial studies scholar who wrote Orientalism and After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. He opened the first branch in 2017 in his hometown of Beit Lahia City, and he opened a second branch in 2019 in Gaza City.
This story has been updated with further information.