Political Writings of Ghassan Kanafani

In the last week of October 1977, the Israeli occupation authorities banned the performance of a theatrical adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men in the Sun”. The play was to be presented in Nazareth by a local theatrical group. In preventing the performance, the Zionist authorities in effect expressed a profound fear of any literature and art that expresses a sense of deep attachment to Palestinian identity.

It was noteworthy that the banned play is written by a Palestinian writer who was assassinated at the hands of Zionist terrorists. Why was Kanafani a target of Zionist terror?

Kanafani’s writings were influential and instrumental in evoking and crystallizing the conviction that Palestinians, particularly of his generation, had a total and and overriding duty to remain Palestinian. His words in a simple yet profound manner expressed and articulated the Palestinian cause. His writings were a source for the rejection of the status quo, for he believed in a future that would deliver a free Palestine. In one of his novels, Return to Haifa (1969) Kanafani emphasized that “The greatest crime anybody can commit is to think that the weakness and the mistakes of others give him the right to exist at their expense.”

Moreover, in addition to being a prolific writer, Kanafani was an astute political commentator. A pamphlet by comrade Kanafani and published by the PFLP in 1970, The Resistance and its Problems was at the time of its publication the most daring and responsible critique of the dynamics of Palestinian resistance. He identified the major drawbacks that prevent the forging of the Palestinian people’s victory. As a revolutionary, Comrade Kanafani in subjecting the resistance movement to critical evaluation, sought through praxis to enrich and clarify the theoretical basis of the struggle so as to lay the basis for inducing changes in the objective conditions. In his critical pursuit, he identified the basic factors of of analysis as an evaluation of three interconnecting criteria:

  1. The political-theoretical line of the resistance;
  2. The question of praxis – particularly the armed dimension;
  3. The question of organization and leadership which provides the first two factors with the necessary dialectical connection.

Seven years after its publication the method and framework of analysis he presented, remain the most useful of approaches in conducting a critical evaluation of our predicament.

Ghassan believed that a people who struggle for liberation must know their history. However, existing written history reflects the views of its writers – colonial history. To fill in the gap, he set out to write the modern history of the Palestinian people’s struggle. The initial piece was a study of the famous 1936-39 revolt in Palestine. Due to his assassination he never completed the rest of the project.

Comrade Kanafani’s multi-dimensionality extends beyond his literary and political abilities. In addition he was a painter and a skillful literary critic. Through his efforts, the Arab reader outside Palestine was introduced to what he called the “Poets of resistance.” Mahmud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim, two currently well-known Palestinian Arab poets were first discovered by Kanafani. Comrade Kanafani was not satisfied with studying Palestinian literature, for he believed that to know one’s enemy one must study his literature. He thus became the first Arab writer to interpret Israeli-Zionist literature.

Comrade Kanafani was perhaps the first Arab writer to be martyred in the course of the process of liberation.

He consciously chose to abandon and forego many bourgeois opportunities and offers as he delved more and more into political and organizational tasks within the framework of the PFLP. Such an option was basically consistent with one of the dominant themes pervading most of his literary writings. He expressed the idea that the Palestinian who prefers his own private happiness to the destiny of the Palestinians is doomed to failure.

Not surprisingly, Kanafani’s funeral was perhaps the biggest political demonstration in Lebanon since Nasser’s death. As a martyr however, his impact on the Palestinian predicament and consciousness is an ever present fact. The Israelis tried to silence him, but his spilt blood has served well in nurturing the militancy of the present and future generations of Palestinians.

The Israeli occupation forces tried to silence and prevent our people from seeking to assert their new identity – liberation. The theatre in Nazareth might have been forced into closure, but the people of the surrounding towns organized demonstrations and rallies expressing their anger. Tewfik Zayyad, the Palestinian poet and mayor of Nazareth, addressed the crowd telling that their action proves Israel’s impotence in confronting Palestinian self-assertion.

Return to Ghassan Kanafani Main Page.

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