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UCL students hold emotional vigil for Palestinian alumnus and poet killed in Gaza

Tributes to Dr Refaat Alareer included readings of his final poem, ‘If I must die’


UCL Students gathered in the main quad today to pay respects to Dr Refaat Alareer, a poet, activist and UCL Alum who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on 7th December.

The vigil, organised by UCL Action for Palestine, commemorated his life and writings, and mourned his death. Students, staff and alumni gathered to pay their respects. 

Dr Refaat Alareer was a highly celebrated activist for Palestine, and had previously been attacked by Israeli airstrikes in 2014. His death has been grieved by individuals and institutions across the world.

Students gather in the Main Quad to pay respects

Under overcast skies, students led the crowd in remembrance of Alareer’s life, activism and legacy. They delivered readings of his last poem, “If I must die”, in multiple languages, including Greek, Armenian and Arabic. 

Leaflets were handed out with Alareer’s last poem, “If I Must Die”.

Tributes to Alareer also included a prayer, and the crowd were invited to tie ribbons in the colours of the Palestinian flag across UCL’s main quad.

Each ribbon held the name of a victim of the current conflict. Amna, a Masters student responsible for running the memorial, outlined expectations of UCL staff to be respectful of these ribbons and their symbolism.

Students tie ribbons around UCL’s Main Quad after the protest

At the vigil, organisers criticised UCL’s refusal to issue a statement commemorating Dr Alareer, highlighting UCL’s past association with racism and eugenics.

Amna gave a further comment to The London Tab after the vigil, asking UCL to “end their hypocrisy.”

She explained that UCL Action for Palestine had organised the memorial in the wake of UCL’s failure to do so, describing it as an “opportunity for students to mourn that should have been provided by the university”. 

Speakers expressed their rage, with one saying of Dr Alareer: “He would have walked these corridors, this would have been his home.”

University Putra Malaysia, where Dr Alareer completed his doctorate, has issued a statement commemorating him, but UCL has yet to do the same. 

A UCL alumnus shared her purported email correspondence with Michael Spence, the university’s provost, on X, in which he states that: “Given that UCL has such a huge number of distinguished alumni, we do not issue statements about their deaths.”

 

UCL’s silence was the source of much anger and criticism at the vigil, as the university has previously issued several statements commemorating alumni

Ribbons were tied to UCL’s Christmas tree

Crowds joined chants including “Michael Spence, shame on you” and “UCL, shame on you”.

Students also played a recording that Alareer had requested for CNN to publish in the case of his death. Other speakers paid tribute to his legacy as one of many “cultural giants” produced by the nation.

The memorial was met with increased security, following heightened tensions at UCL over the current conflict.

A UCL spokesperson said: “The ongoing violence and suffering in Gaza and Israel is terribly distressing and we recognise the deep impact it has had on UCL’s community, many of whom are directly affected and greatly concerned. We are working to support all those affected by this.”

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