An award-winning Palestinian poet in the Gaza Strip was released on Tuesday, a day after he was arrested by the IDF and briefly transferred for questioning in Israel.
Mosab Abu Toha’s arrest quickly sparked Western media’s attention, as he had been contributing pieces to The New Yorker and other major outlets since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, painting a dire image of its toll on civilians through his personal experience.
Abu Toha’s brother, Hamza posted on X that Mosab had been arrested while evacuating to southern Gaza. Hamza said his brother’s wife and children were allowed to continue south, but “the military detained my brother.”
Abu Toha’s release was first reported by New Yorker editor Michael Luo who tweeted Tuesday that the poet had been detained “for no evident reason” and taken into southern Israel for questioning. Luo said two Israeli military officials who he spoke with said Abu Toha “will be back in Gaza by the end of the day at the latest. We hope Mosab will be able to reunite with his family and we hope to hear from him soon.”
The IDF subsequently issued a statement confirming his release and offering an explanation for his original arrest.
“During IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, there was intelligence indicating of a number of interactions between several civilians and terror organizations inside the Gaza Strip. The civilians, among them Mosab Abu Toha, were taken into questioning. After the questioning he was released,” the IDF said.
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
War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a cross-border attack into Israel that killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists also abducted at least 240 people who are being held captive in Gaza.
Israel responded with a military campaign aimed at toppling Hamas from power in Gaza and releasing the hostages. It has urged residents in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate to the south as it strikes terror infrastructure in the north.
Abu Toha last posted on X on November 15, writing “Alive. Thanks for your prayers.”
The literary and free expression organization PEN said it was concerned about the arrest and demanded to know Abu Toha’s whereabouts and the reason for his arrest. The New Yorker magazine, to which Abu Toha has contributed multiple articles, called for his safe return.
The Palestinian poet @MosabAbuToha lives with his wife and three children in Gaza. Over the weekend, Israeli forces reportedly detained Abu Toha in central Gaza. The New Yorker joins other organizations in calling for his safe return.https://t.co/0iNURZsRSI
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) November 20, 2023
The UK Guardian newspaper cited family and friends as saying that US officials had informed Abu Toha that he and his family could exit Gaza into Egypt via the Rafah crossing as one of his children, born in America, has US citizenship.
The family was on its way to the crossing when Abu Toha was stopped at an IDF checkpoint, the report said.
Abu Toha and his family relocated to Jabaliya in north Gaza after the war started. They later heard that their home in Beit Lahia had been bombed.
In a November 6 article published by The New Yorker, he described life in Jabaliya amid the war, referring to the outbreak of fighting only as “the escalation.”
Abu Toha has kept up a steady stream of posts to his X account since the war began, repeatedly saying that Israel has “massacred” civilians.
On October 7, the day of the Hamas attack, he posted twice about casualties in Gaza from Israeli strikes “since the early hours of the morning,” but made no mention of the Hamas assaults and massacres in Israel.
Abu Toha wrote an English-language collection, “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear,” published last year.
The collection was a finalist in this year’s National Book Critics Circle’s poetry award and won an American Book award.
At the beginning of the month, Egypt began allowing foreign nationals and dual citizens to exit via Rafah into the Sinai Peninsula.
On October 7, Hamas led over 3,000 terrorists to breach the border with Gaza and then rampage murderously through southern Israeli communities slaughtering those they found. Entire families were butchered as they huddled in their homes. Some victims were raped, tortured, or mutilated, including dozens of babies who were beheaded. At an outdoor music festival, 260 people were killed.
Among the hostages held in Gaza are elderly people and small children.
According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities, more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and Hamas has been accused of inflating them and of designating gunmen in their late teens as children. It is not known how many among its total are combatants, and how many among the dead were victims of misfired rockets aimed at Israel.