The life and death of Ghassan Kanafani – Mondoweiss
Acclaimed journalist, novelist, short story writer, and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated in 1972 by agents of the Mossad. His widow, Danish-born Anni Kanafani, published a short biography of his life one year later; in her tribute, she offered readers an inside view of Kanafani’s life as a father, husband, and uncle, as well as his drive and passion to write. In this important and powerful book, Palestine Writes Press re-introduces Anni Kanafani’s writing to the world.
This new volume includes an Arabic translation, as well as a compelling introduction by historian and literary scholar Louis Allday, as well as a moving foreword by Dr. Fadle Naqib, a childhood friend of Ghassan Kanafani. Complete with an updated selective bibliography of Kanafani’s work, this book is an essential addition to the canon of Palestinian literature.
Palestine Writes Press was launched in 2023 to give writers across the Palestinian diaspora a platform to share their literary works and vision. It is a project of Palestine Writes Festival, the first Palestinian literary festival in North America.
The book will be available to buy at the Palestine Writes Festival in Philadelphia September 22-24, and from the Palestine Writes website.
The following is the introduction to the book by Louis Allday.
“With Ghassan’s presence, we felt that someone cared about us.“1
Samih al-Qasim (1939-2014)
“I can say, without exaggeration, that Ghassan was a genius. His death was a tragedy that struck me in the heart. But my consolation is that he is present in the heart and conscience of every free person.“2
George Habash (1926-2008)
The Martyrs of Palestine Cemetery next to the Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, is a unique place – a non-confessional burial ground, in which people of different religions, nationalities, ethnicities and political orientations lie in rest together, united by the ultimate sacrifice they paid as martyrs in service of the Palestinian cause. The cemetery is effectively an open-air museum illustrating the intertwined stories, geographies and struggles of the Palestinian revolution and those who have fought and died for it – a physical manifestation of Ghassan Kanafani’s declaration that Palestine is “a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is … a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses.”3 Short of being buried in the soil of his beloved Palestine – where he was born on April 9, 1936 – it is fitting that it was here that Kanafani was laid to rest following his murder by Israeli agents on July 8, 1972.
On a typically hot and humid August day almost fifty years after Kanafani was killed, I set out to find this cemetery and pay my respects at the grave of a man who had become a hero of mine. I first heard of Kanafani soon after becoming a supporter of the Palestinian cause as a teenager, and then read his most well-known novel Men in the Sun while at university. Yet it was not until years later, when I read Ghassan Kanafani by his widow Anni, the moving tribute that I have been given the honour of introducing here, that I became interested in his life and work on a deeper level.
Kanafani was many things at the time of his death, including a celebrated author, a Marxist-Leninist, a Pan-Arabist,4 a comrade, a refugee, an artist, a husband, an uncle, and a father. As such, his murder constituted different things to different people, and one of the most remarkable aspects of Anni’s tribute to him is the way it draws from her own memories, as well as from letters of condolence, photographs, extracts from Kanafani’s writing, and artwork by him and others, to convey intimately what a profound and multi-faceted loss his death was. In doing so, it places his death in the context of an ongoing revolutionary struggle, and sends a defiant message to those responsible for it.
At its core, Kanafani’s murder was a family tragedy, one compounded by the fact that his sister’s daughter, Lamis Nijem, whom he and the whole family adored, was killed alongside him aged only seventeen years old.5 Simultaneously, it was a crushing blow, personally and politically, to Kanafani’s comrades in the PFLP and beyond. Foremost amongst those affected in this manner was his close friend, mentor, and fellow PFLP member, George Habash, who Kanafani had first met over two decades earlier as a teenager in Damascus, where he and his family settled as refugees after the Nakba. In his autobiography, Habash describes the day Kanafani was killed as one of the most painful of his life and recounts the difficulty he experienced writing a letter of condolence to Anni that would convey the magnitude of the loss he felt.6 He need not have worried because his letter, published in full in Anni’s tribute, is a masterpiece of understated yet heartfelt affection and revolutionary steadfastness. Pained by his inability to attend his dear friend’s funeral and console Anni in person,7 Habash writes: “Anni – I know very well what Ghassan’s loss means to you, but please remember that you have Fayez, Laila, and thousands of brothers and sisters who are members of the P.F.L.P., and above all you have the cause Ghassan was fighting for.”8 For Anni, Kanafani’s death was the loss of “an exceptional human being,” her husband, comrade, and teacher, and the loving father of their two young children.9 “Your good and beautiful hands and mind were always creating, giving to us – to the people,” she writes in her poignant letter of farewell to him.10
It was with these letters and the weighty emotions they provoke swirling around my mind that I walked through the busy streets of Shatila looking for the entrance to the cemetery. I found what I assumed to be it, entered, and asked a man calmly sweeping the ground around the base of a tomb if he knew where the martyr Ghassan Kanafani was buried. He shrugged his shoulders apologetically, and I soon realized I was in the wrong place: an adjacent Islamic cemetery, not the one nearby reserved for martyrs of Palestine. As I tried to get my bearings, a middle-aged man on a moped appeared and asked if he could help. Before I had even finished asking him where Kanafani’s grave was, he said, “get on,” and within seconds, I found myself sitting on the back of his moped, zooming out of the cemetery and onto a busy road that curves around its perimeter. He drove me through a Lebanese army checkpoint at the entrance to Shatila – one of many daily indignities that Palestinians in Lebanon are forced to endure – and then dropped me off at the entrance to the Martyrs of Palestine Cemetery. After pointing me vaguely in the direction of the grave, he disappeared as swiftly as he had arrived.
Before going to the cemetery in person, I had watched archival footage of Kanafani’s funeral and been struck by the number of tall pine trees in the background; such a rare sight in the cityscape of present-day Beirut. The same thought entered my mind once again upon noticing that many of those trees were still there five decades later. I had forgotten to bring sunglasses and the glaring sun combined with the brightness of the pale marble gravestones forced me into an awkward squint. However, after searching for a few minutes in the peaceful and – apart from several cats lounging in the sun – seemingly empty cemetery, I spotted Kanafani’s grave. The bright red of a small PFLP flag placed on his tombstone had caught my eye from afar. So serene was the atmosphere that it was hard to believe I had been walking through the bustling, densely populated camp of Shatila just minutes earlier.
Around his grave and others near it, including Lamis’ that lies directly opposite,11 there were plants and flowers, some of which looked recently planted. When I saw these, I thought immediately of the letter written to Kanafani for the tribute by his son, Fayez, in which he recalls his father “planting flowers with gentle hands”12 every Sunday in the garden with him and his younger sister, Leila. The same garden that Anni describes as “Ghassan’s pride”13 – where the Kanafani and Habash children would play together on special occasions and holidays.14 Fayez’s short letter stands out amidst a number of touching documents contained in Anni’s tribute to her husband. Aged only nine when his father was killed, the young Fayez’s words are heartbreakingly blunt and candid. They serve as a stark reminder that, behind the celebrated and occasionally sanitized image of a martyr for a virtuous cause, there lies a family shattered by grief, with confused children, left to navigate the world without their parent.
Reading Fayez’s letter for the first time, written from a child to his already deceased father, I was reminded of Che Guevara’s farewell note to his children, written pre-emptively in case of his death two years before he, like Kanafani, was murdered by reactionaries.15 “My father was a good man”, Fayez writes proudly; “[y]our father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and … [has] been loyal to his convictions”, Che explains to his children. “I want to be like my father and will fight to return to Palestine, my father’s homeland,” Fayez affirms proudly; “[g]row up as good revolutionaries,” Che exhorts his young children. Of course, in both cases, the fathers’ chance to see their children grow up, as revolutionaries or not, was taken from them.
On the day I visited Kanafani’s modest grave, I noticed a laminated sheet of paper atop with his own words written on it. It read: “I dare to believe that my writing has always sprung from the belief that man is responsible for his own fate and is able to change it … and in many cases, he is able to attain the honor of dying for that purpose,” a statement that of course proved to be prophetic. Kanafani often appeared unafraid of death in a manner reminiscent of Che, whose bravery – what some called recklessness – was legendary. Not long before Kanafani died, a journalist asked what death meant to him. Kanafani answered: “Of course, death means a lot. The important thing is to know why. Self-sacrifice, within the context of revolutionary action, is an expression of the very highest understanding of life, and of the struggle to make life worthy of a human being.”16 Similarly, Che believed that armed struggle was “the only solution for those peoples who fight for their liberation” and considered himself “one who risks his neck to prove his truths.”17
That both men suffered from chronic and, at times, life-threatening illnesses – diabetes and asthma, respectively – may well have diminished their fear of mortality. Yet the common traits that both men’s health problems most likely contributed towards were their compassion and intense desire to struggle against injustice in the time that they had on earth, whatever its length. In characteristically poignant and succinct fashion, Habash once said of his friend: “he knew his life would be short, but he wanted it to be full and meaningful, and so it was.”18 Neither Kanafani nor Che reached even forty years of age, yet accomplished so much in their short lives, and with seemingly boundless energy, dedication, and tenacity. As Anni writes, Kanafani “was always busy … [w]orking as if death was just around the corner.”19 In an interview given just weeks before his death, aged just thirty-six, he revealed the relentless pressure and workload he had taken on editing the PFLP’s chronically understaffed newspaper, al-Hadaf,20 working thirteen–fourteen-hour days under intense scrutiny from all directions.21
In her tribute to Kanafani, Anni draws the parallels her husband shared with Che and other revolutionaries who were slain before them:
Love of life necessitates violence. Ghassan wasn’t a pacifist. He was killed in the class-struggle like Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Thalmann, [Patrice] Lumumba and Ché Guevara. As they loved life – so did he.22
Indeed, Kanafani’s killing can only be fully understood in this context. His murder came during a global wave of counter-revolutionary assassinations, which was especially intense from the 1960s until the 1980s. It was an era in which a series of anti-colonial victories (most prominently in Algeria and Vietnam) and periods of sustained domestic unrest in the United States combined with the political, military, and ideological counterweight of the Soviet Union to threaten the global hegemony of Western imperialism perhaps more than any time before. Kanafani was a committed internationalist23 and a firm believer in the global nature of the struggle against imperialism, arguing that it had “laid its body over the world, the head in Eastern Asia, the heart in the Middle East, its arteries reaching Africa and Latin America. Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the World Revolution.”24 In the vicious counter-revolution that ensued globally across those three decades, imperialist forces (or their proxies) murdered a host of revolutionary leaders and intellectuals. Patrice Lumumba (d. 1961), Mehdi Ben Barka (d. 1965), Malcolm X (d. 1965), Che Guevara (d. 1967), Martin Luther King (d. 1968), Fred Hampton (d. 1969), Amílcar Cabral (d. 1973), Salvador Allende (d. 1973), Steve Biko (d. 1977), Walter Rodney (d. 1980), and Thomas Sankara (d. 1987) are just some of the most well-known members of a diverse group of individuals eliminated during that bloody period.
More specifically, Kanafani’s murder was part of a global campaign of violence and killing waged by Israel – with the full backing of the United States – against the Palestinian liberation movement and its supporters. In the immediate aftermath of Kanafani’s killing, Uri Dan, a journalist and close ally of Ariel Sharon, candidly outlined the cold-blooded rationale behind it in the Israeli newspaper Maariv:
Palestinian members of the ‘Front’ should be under the impression that Israel can strike anywhere … [t]he Killing of Kanafani must be a ‘clear warning’ to them. But the killing of Kanafani must not be an isolated action … [n]ow, more than ever before, the Palestinian leaders must be open to personal terrorism. The killing of Kanafani shows that this is possible, that it can be carried out and that it involves no particular difficulties.25
Those targeted in this campaign – a group whose membership extended well beyond those affiliated with the ‘Front’ (i.e., the PFLP) specifically – were under no illusions about the mortal danger they faced. When Kamal Nasser, a renowned intellectual and poet, and chief spokesperson of the PLO, read the eulogy that Mahmoud Darwish had composed for Kanafani, he reportedly complained to Darwish in semi-tragic jest: “What more can a poet write after this? What is there left for you to say when my time comes?”26 Less than a year later, as he had predicted, Nasser’s time came, when he, along with fellow PLO members, Kamal Adwan and Muhammad Yusif al-Najjar – as well as nine other victims, including al-Najjar’s wife, Rasmiya – were shot dead in Beirut by an Israeli death squad led by the Zionist state’s future Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.27 Echoing the sentiments of Kanafani and Nasser, in an interview he gave just weeks before his own death, al-Najjar stated that he did not expect his generation of Palestinians to defeat Israel, but that they would “plant the seeds, and the others will reap the harvest … [m]ost probably we’ll all die, killed because we are confronting a fierce enemy. But the youth will replace us.”28
Anni’s tribute to her husband was published by the PLO’s Palestine Research Centre (PRC) in Beirut, an organization that since its establishment in 1965 had published reams of books, pamphlets, and other material about the Palestinian cause and Zionism, including Kanafani’s On Zionist Literature in 1967.29 Just over a week after Kanafani’s killing, the Israelis sent letter bombs to a number of other prominent Palestinians in Lebanon, including the PRC’s general director, Anis Sayegh. Sayegh, who wrote the preface to On Zionist Literature, was seriously wounded in the blast but survived.30 Later, when Israel invaded Lebanon, almost exactly a decade after Kanafani’s death, its forces looted the PRC’s entire library of “25,000 volumes …, a printing press, microfilms, manuscripts, and archives”31 and then bombed its offices, killing at least twenty people and injuring many more.32 These attacks were part of a broader Israeli onslaught during which its occupation forces “wiped out most of the Palestinian educational and cultural institutions [in Lebanon] they could get their hands on.”33
Evidently, the Israelis understood the danger that propagating rigorously evidenced historical analysis of the Zionist colonial project – especially in English and other foreign languages – posed to the virtual monopoly on public discourse the Zionist narrative had hitherto enjoyed, most notably in the West. That Kanafani, Nasser, Sayegh, and others like them were intellectuals and spokespeople not themselves actively engaged in fighting was no protection. On the contrary, it was exactly because of their eloquence, intellect, and gifts of communication that they were such a threat and, as a result, became marked men. As Anni writes in her tribute: “[y]ou were able to explain in simple terms the most difficult political ideas – that is why people listened to you, read your articles and books, and will continue to do so. And that is why the enemies had to destroy you.”34
Kanafani was acutely aware of the importance of the cultural sphere in revolutionary struggle. From the 1960s until his death, he was “at once theorizing resistance literature in the context of the Palestinian and Third World liberation struggles, taking cues from Maoist thought, invoking the legacy of Soviet social realist discourses in Palestinian literary production, inspired by visions of U.S. modernism, and closely reading Zionist literature.”35 Kanafani concludes his introduction to On Zionist Literature by stating explicitly that his study had been completed on the basis of one central principle: “to know your enemy.”36 His study was literary criticism of the highest possible stakes, for within five years, that same enemy he sought to know had killed him. Half a century on from Kanafani’s murder, Israel’s campaign of violence has not abated. Countless Palestinian leaders, intellectuals, and fighters have been assassinated by Israel in the years since Kanafani’s passing, and they continue to be targeted up to the present moment. Those killed are frequently principled and incorruptible figures who, as Kanafani did, combine intellectual rigor with militancy, a mixture perhaps exemplified best in recent years by Basil al-Araj, killed by Israel in 2017.37
The widespread praise for Kanafani’s novels and short stories is nothing but deserved. His diverse, complex, and innovative fiction can teach us things about the Palestinian cause, Zionism, and the human predicament in ways little else can. As Nahed Hattar put it:
I don’t think anyone has given as much of their time, passion and mind to writing as Kanafani — with brilliance, elegance, beauty and kindness, animated by the cries of the lovers and the wretched in equal measure … [i]t is impossible to read Kanafani and then not think about Palestine, or your personal freedom, liberating your country, and liberating your mind!38
Yet the emphasis placed on Kanafani as a writer of fiction has occasionally led to his political writing, stances and commitments being overlooked, and at times deliberately obscured.39 This phenomenon is perhaps most noticeable in the Anglosphere, and is not only a result of the dearth of English language translations of Kanafani’s non-fiction writing, but also a reflection of structural problems within the West’s Palestine solidarity movement, of which large swathes have become reluctant to support Palestinian liberation and resistance in all its forms – including armed struggle – and instead focus overwhelmingly on the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign and other non-violent means of resistance and commemoration.40
The issue of armed resistance is central when discussing Kanafani and his legacy. As The Daily Star proclaimed in its obituary, he was “the commando who never fired a gun,” yet he was explicit in his belief that armed struggle – for the Palestinians and all oppressed peoples – was legitimate and necessary. He did not distance himself from the revolutionary violence of the PFLP or other Palestinian factions engaged in armed struggle. Rejecting “bourgeois moralism,”41 Kanafani proudly asserted that armed struggle was the Palestinians’ moral right as an occupied and oppressed people fighting for their land and dignity. He also argued that it was the “ideal form of propaganda,” and that in spite of the “gigantic propaganda system of the United States,” it was through people fighting to liberate themselves in armed struggle “that things are ultimately decided.”42
So certain was Kanafani’s belief in the centrality of armed struggle that, upon returning from a visit to Gaza in 1966, he felt:
… more than any time in the past, that the sole value of my words is that they are a meager and insufficient substitute for the absence of weapons and that they pale now before the emergence of real men who die every day in pursuit of something I respect.43
Half a century later, there is little doubt Kanafani would be heartened by the increasingly unified and effective Palestinian armed resistance – of which the PFLP is a member and continues to fight in his name.44 In May 2021, and again as I write this in May 2023, this resistance – centered around the unified factions in Gaza, but increasingly involving acts of coordinated resistance throughout historical Palestine, and with the direct cooperation of Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon – has withstood Israeli military onslaughts and dictated the terms of ceasefire. This is fundamentally undermining Israel’s deterrence capability and rewriting the military balance to its detriment.
In her tribute, Anni notes in passing that seventy percent of Ghassan’s students at the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Damascus, at which he taught in the 1950s, had since become “commandos.”45 It is those children and what they represented that Kanafani fought for and felt accountable to, for after all, they were just like him – before becoming a teacher at the camp, he was an inhabitant of it himself as a stateless refugee. By the 1960s, however, Kanafani was a celebrated novelist, and a cultural figure of regional renown with a Danish wife. An escape route – and therefore a more comfortable, and likely safer, trajectory for his life – was clear and well within his grasp. Yet, like the unnamed author of the letter in his moving 1956 epistolary short story, Letter from Gaza, Kanafani chose to stay amidst “the ugly debris of defeat … to learn … what life is and what existence is worth.”46 People are generally divided into combatants and spectators, Kanafani once explained in a letter to Lamis, and he had “chosen not to be a spectator, and this means that I have chosen to live the decisive moments of our history, no matter how short they are.” Nor did Anni try to convince him to do otherwise. As she has written, “[h]ad I tried to stop him from his revolutionary struggle and commitment, he might still be my husband, but not the fine person who I loved and admired.”47
In a profoundly insightful tribute to Kanafani, Nassar Ibrahim, a Palestinian writer who served as editor of al-Hadaf in the 1990s, expounds on the dilemma that his predecessor had faced. Ibrahim explains that Kanafani, whom he categorizes as a true Gramscian organic intellectual, faced:
… great questions and choices in a harsh, difficult, bitter, and bloody reality … He had to choose knowing in advance that each option had its own costs … Ghassan had, at a crucial moment, to choose between facing the contradictions and challenges that express the reality and resistance of the Palestinian people. To engage in it personally, or to be only an intellectual who follows and interacts with what is happening from afar … he had to choose between being an active and organic participant in the resistance with all the risks and direct costs that entails … or continuing his life as a writer in the context of daily life … where it is difficult, if not impossible, to be aware of the true spirit of the Palestinian experience … from outside. That is why Kanafani had to choose … so he chose his fate.48
Anni faced a similar quandary in the wake of Kanafani’s murder. Now a widow and with two young children to care for, a way out for her was even clearer, and many would say understandable. Yet Anni did not leave; she stayed and remained committed to the cause. Moreover, on the second anniversary of his martyrdom, she established the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation in Beirut, which to this day provides invaluable educational services and support for children in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, directly improving the lives of children, whom Kanafani adored, and for whom he struggled.
In the summer of 2022, I visited Anni and Leila, and gave them both copies of the newly translated edition of On Zionist Literature, which I had edited earlier that year. Such was the warmth, immediacy, and love with which they both spoke of Ghassan, that it felt as though he might walk through the door at any moment after a hard day’s work at the offices of al-Hadaf. Being surrounded by his artwork on their apartment’s walls only added to the effect of this intoxicating daydream. Alas, the man that I, along with countless others, have learned to know, albeit indirectly, is gone, yet his legacy and example remain.
The act of resistance, John Berger once wrote, is “not only refusing to accept the absurdity of the world-picture offered us, but denouncing it. And when hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.”49 In this spirit, how Ghassan chose to live his short life should be seen as an unyielding denunciation of the hell that Zionism has imposed on not only the Palestinians but also countless Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, and others in the region into which it has temporarily implanted itself. The cowardly servants of a reactionary ideology that killed Ghassan wanted to obliterate him and all that he represented, yet as Anni’s stirring ending to her tribute proclaims:
… [T]hey did not succeed. Nobody can destroy an honourable human being rooted through revolutionary struggle among his people. You will always be with us Ghassan – a martyr, a symbol, a flame of liberation and revolution for the Palestinian people and for other Afro-Asian people.
Ghassan has not been forgotten, nor will he ever be – and his memory will live longer than the entity that sought to silence him and his people. The republication of the evocative tribute that follows this introduction will help to ensure that is so.
- “Al-Dhikra al-khamsūn l-istishhād Ghassān Kanafāni … kalima lam tunshar min qabl li-rafīq darbih George Ḥabash”, al-Hadaf, July 8th 2022.The translation is my own.
- Ghassān Sharbal, Asrār al-ṣundūq al-aswad: Wadīʻ Ḥaddād, Kārlūs, Anīs al-Naqqāsh, Jūrj Ḥabash, Riyāḍ al-Rayyis lil-Kutub wa-al-Nashr, Bairūt, 2008, 409. The translation is my own.
- S. Marwan, “A Tribute to Ghassan Kanafani”, al-Hadaf, July 22nd 1972. Contained in: Ghassan Kanafani, “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, Tricontinental Society, London (1980).
- Although the formation of the PFLP in 1967 is often portrayed as Kanafani and Habash rejecting Pan-Arabism wholesale in favour of Marxism-Leninism, such analysis obscures the fact that both men continued to understand the Palestinian cause as indivisibly linked to a broader Arab struggle. As Anni writes of Kanafani in her tribute to him: “He was one of those who fought sincerely for the development of the resistance movement from being a nationalist Palestinian liberation movement into being a pan-Arab revolutionary socialist movement of which the liberation of Palestine would be a vital component. He always stressed that the Palestine problem could not be solved in isolation from the Arab World’s whole social and political situation.”
- Kanafani was especially close to Lamis. Anni describes her as having been “his muse”; on most of her birthdays, he would write and illustrate a story book for her. One such book, The Little Lantern, written for Lamis’ eighth birthday, has been published in an edition that includes Kanafani’s own handwritten text and illustrations accompanied by an English translation. Ghassan Kanafani, The Little Lantern, (Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation, 2005).
- George Habash, Ṣafaḥāt min masīratī an-niḍālīya muḏakkirāt, Markaz Dirāsāt al-Waḥda al-ʻArabīya, Bairūt, 2019, 218.
- Habash was convalescing from a serious illness at the time.
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Anni writes “often we visit the graves of Ghassan and Lamees. They are buried in the shadows of the trees – the earth is as dry and red as the soil in Palestine from which their people have been expelled”. Ghassan Kanafani
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Habash, Ṣafaḥāt min masīratī an-niḍālīya muḏakkirāt, 218. Habash too recalls Kanafani’s special care of the family’s garden.
- Ernesto Che Guevara, I Embrace You with All My Revolutionary Fervor: Letters 1947-1967 (Penguin, 2021), 322.
- Ghassan Kanafani
- An extract from Che’s farewell letter to his parents, 1965. Guevara (2021), 323.
- “Al-Dhikra al-khamsūn l-istishhād Ghassān Kanafāni … kalima lam tunshar min qabl li-rafīq darbih George Ḥabash”, al-Hadaf, July 8th 2022.
- Ghassan Kanafani. Similarly, Habash described him as being in “a race against time”. Ibid.
- Founded by Kanafani in 1969.
- Ghassan Kanafani interviewed in 1972: “Anti-imperialism gives impetus to socialism if it does not stop fighting in the middle of the battle”, Samidoun, 11 July 2022. (English translation of interview published in Palestinian Affairs, Issue 36, July 1974). Accessed April 2023.
- Ghassan Kanafani
- The intensity with which Kanafani felt these connections is clear in the following account of his visit to China, where he attended the Afro-Asiatic Writers’ Conference in 1966. Following the conclusion of his speech, a North Vietnamese delegate distributed pieces from an American plane shot down the week before. In response, Kanafani chose not to read his own speech and instead “said he had nothing to offer in the way his North Vietnamese colleague had, but promised to do so at the next conference. Then he sat down and burst into tears”. Stefan Wild, Ghassan Kanafani: The Life of a Palestinian (1975), 17. Wild is himself quoting George Hajjar, Kanafani: Symbol of Palestine (1974), 71.
- These words continue to inspire those in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. In April 2023, an article written by a member of the UK-based group Palestine Action, that takes direct action against Israeli weapons companies with operations in the UK, quoted them when explaining the group’s motivations. Dante, “Unravelling the Paper Tiger: Palestine Action’s Siege”, Ebb Magazine, 6th April 2023. Accessed April 2023.
- “The Killing of Kanafani”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 2. No. 1. (Autumn, 1972), 149.
- Elias Khoury, “Remembering Ghassan Kanafani, or How a Nation was Born of Storytelling”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 42 No. 3. (Spring, 2013), 85.
- As part of the same operation, a PFLP building in Lebanon was attacked and several of its fighters killed. In a letter to the UN Security Council decrying the actions of “Israeli terrorists”, Edouard Ghorra, Lebanon’s Permanent Representative to the UN, wrote: “[t]he Israeli Government has escalated its insolent policy of terror by publicly declaring, on many occasions, wherever they may be, at any time, that it will attack the Palestinian people, and by all measures without having to invoke the slightest pretext. This condemnable and ruthless policy which stems from Israel’s arrogance of power has as an objective either to exterminate the Palestinian people, or to force them to surrender their legitimate rights”. Letter dated 11th April 1973 from the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the UN Addressed to the President of the Security Council. Accessed April 2023.
- “Most Probably We’ll All Die”, Time, 23rd April 1973. Accessed April 2023.
- The first English translation of this study was published on July 8th 2022 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Kanafani’s killing. See Ghassan Kanafani, On Zionist Literature, Ebb Books/Liberated Texts (2022). I commissioned and edited this translation (by Mahmoud Najib) after reading the original and discovering it had never been translated into English.
- Shafiq al-Hout, My Life in the PLO, Pluto Press (2011), 107. al-Hout was targeted by a letter bomb in the same campaign but it was detected before being opened and he escaped unharmed.
- Ihsan A. Hijazi, “Israeli Looted Archives of P.L.O Officials Say”, New York Times, October 1st 1982. Accessed April 2023. For more on the fate of the PRC’s archive see: Hana Sleiman, “The Paper Trail of a Liberation Movement”. Accessed April 2023.
- Trudy Rubin, “The fall of the PLO’s ‘state within state’ in Lebanon”, Christian Science Monitor, 10th February 1983. Accessed April 2023. Responsibility for the bombing was claimed by a group called the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners (FLLF), which was revealed to be “a creation of Israel, a fictitious group used by senior officials to hide their country’s hand in a deadly ‘terrorist’ campaign”. Remi Brulin, “How the Israeli military censor killed a story about ‘terrorist’ bombing campaign in Lebanon in 1980s”, Mondoweiss, 23rd October 2019. Accessed April 2023.
- Munir Fasheh, “Graham-Brown, Education, Repression and Liberation”, MERIP, 136/137, October-December 1985. Accessed April 2023.
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Elizabeth M. Holt, “Resistance Literature and Occupied Palestine in Cold War Beirut”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 50 No. 1. 2021. Accessed April 2023.
- On Zionist Literature (2022), 6.
- The killing of al-Araj took place with the collaboration of the Palestinian Authority, a comprador entity that epitomises everything that Kanafani, al-Araj and others like them were not. In the case of the uncompromising and eloquent Nizar Banat, another militant intellectual killed in 2021, Palestinian Authority thugs themselves shamefully carried out the murderous act itself.
- Nahed Hattar, “Ghassān Kanafāni … al-ṣarkha la tazāl tudawwi”, al-Akhbar, 31st August 2015, Accessed April 2023. The translation is my own.
- Relevant here is the account of Kanafani’s sister, Fayzia, who tells how the day before they were killed “Lamees had asked her uncle to reduce his revolutionary activities and to concentrate more upon writing his stories. She had said to him, ‘Your stories are beautiful,’ and he had answered, ‘Go back to writing stories? I write well because I believe in a cause, in principles. The day I leave these principles, my stories will become empty. If I were to leave behind my principles, you yourself would not respect me.’ He was able to convince the girl that the struggle and the defense of principles is what finally leads to success in everything”. Ghassan Kanafani, “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, Tricontinental Society, London (1980).
- This observation is not intended to imply that non-violent efforts such as BDS are inconsequential or unimportant. Rather, that BDS should be considered part and parcel of a broad spectrum of resistance activities, of which armed struggle is an integral component. For further discussion on this issue see: Louis Allday, “The Palestinians’ Inalienable Right to Resist”, Ebb Magazine, 22nd June 2021. Accessed May 2023.
- Ghassan Kanafani, “On the PFLP and the September Crisis”, New Left Review, I/67, May/June 1971.
- Kanafani makes these remarks in The Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971, Masao Adachi and Koji Wakamatsu).
- Nancy Coffin, “Engendering Resistance in the Work of Ghassan Kanafani: All That’s Left to You, Of Men and Guns, and Umm Sa’d”, The Arab Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 1996).
- Interviewed by Redfish in May 2021, Maher Mezher, a Central Committee Member of the PFLP in Gaza, spoke about how its military wing would keep “the vow and legacy of the martyrs’ blood, chief of whom are Abu Ali Mustafa, Wadih Haddad, Ghassan Kanafani, Ribhi Haddad and Ra’ed Nazzal.” Accessed June 2023.
- Upon reading this, I thought immediately of a memory from my experience teaching English to a class of Palestinians at a UNRWA school in Damascus in 2009. Once, during a conversation exercise in which I asked the students about what they wished for, a thoughtful teenage boy in the class answered with absolute and piercing sincerity: “a rifle, so I can go to Palestine and fight to get our land back”.
- English translation in Ghassan Kanafani, “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, Tricontinental Society, London (1980).
- Ghassan Kanafani
- Nassar Ibrahim, “Ghassān Kanafāni lais qiddīsan wa la ayqūna jamida, kan tha’iran yaktob li-al-ḥayat“, al-Ḥuqool, 19th July 2017. The translation is my own.
- John Berger, “Against the great defeat of the world”, Race & Class, 40/2-3, 1999. Berger had a specific interest in Kanafani and dedicated his 2008 novel From A to X to his memory. In the same year, as part of the inaugural Palestine Festival of Literature, Berger recited Kanafani’s “Letter from Gaza” in full and by the end of his moving rendition, he was almost in tears.