On a day this week, July 8 1972, the Palestinian social revolutionary and writer, spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), died in Beirut, murdered by the Israeli intelligence services – Mossad
“The history of the world is always weak people fighting strong people. Of weak people who have a correct case fighting strong people who use their strength to exploit the weak.” (Ghassan Kanafani, interview by Richard Carleton, Beirut, 1970)
“I’m glad you are going to Kuwait, because you will learn many things there. The first thing you will learn is: money comes first, and then morals.” (Abul Khaizuranin in ‘Men in the Sun’, 1962)
On a day this week, July 8 1972, the Palestinian social revolutionary and writer, spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and member of the PFLP’s politbureau, died in Beirut, Lebanon, murdered by the ‘special operations institute/division’ of the Israeli intelligence services – Mossad. Behind him, he left a widow, Anni Hoover Kanafani and his two children, nine year old Fayez, his son and five year old daughter, Laila.
Ghassan Kanafani died when the Austin 1100 which he was using to take his seventeen-year-old niece, Lamees Najim – on a visit from Kuwait and on her way into Beirut “to visit her cousins” with her uncle – was destroyed “in the inferno of an explosion of a planted bomb”.
On January 22, 1973, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli agents were responsible for Kanafani’s assassination. A number of other sources also reported similar: Raphael Rothstein, U.S. correspondent for Haaretz, reported the same in World Magazine in an article entitled, “Undercover Terror: The Other Mid-East War.” “Israel is careful not to take credit officially for these actions.” Zeev Schiff, pointed out, in ‘A History of the Israeli Army 1870-1974’ (source Karen E. Riley).
Of his death his sister wrote:
“On the morning of Saturday, July 8, 1972, at about 10:30am, Lamees (Kanafani’s niece) and her uncle were going out together to Beirut. A minute after their departure, we heard the sound of a very loud explosion which shook the whole building. We were immediately afraid, but our fear was for Ghassan and not for Lamees because we had forgotten that Lamees was with him and we knew that Ghassan was the target of the explosion. We ran outside, all of us were calling for Ghassan and not one of us called for Lamees. Lamees was still a child of seventeen years. Her whole being was longing for life and was full of life. But we knew that Ghassan was the one who had chosen this road and who had walked along it. Just the previous day, 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 defence of principles is what finally leads to success in everything.”
In his story ‘Letter from Gaza’ (read by John Berger)) Ghassan Kanafani had already put into words the terror and the predicament of this seemingly endless war:
“They told me that Nadia had lost her leg when she threw herself on top of her little brothers and sisters to protect them from the bombs and flames that had fastened their claws into the house. Nadia could have saved herself, she could have run away, rescued her leg. But she didn’t.
No, my friend, I won’t come to Sacramento, and I’ve no regrets. No, and nor will I finish what we began together in childhood. This obscure feeling that you had as you left Gaza, this small feeling must grow into a giant deep within you. It must expand, you must seek it in order to find yourself, here among the ugly debris of defeat.
I won’t come to you. But you, return to us! Come back, to learn from Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.
Come back, my friend! We are all waiting for you”.
This first-generation-Palestinian refugee had lived under the British Mandate for Palestine in Acre (Akka) on the northern Mediterranean coast of Palestine; born April 9, 1936. He lived there until he was 12 years old when on May 17, 1948, Acre was captured by Israeli militants.
“When I was twelve, just as I began to perceive the meaning of life and nature around me, I was hurled down and exiled from my own country.” (Quoted in Karen E Riley)
As to why, Kanafani had explained succinctly:
“Thus, the Zionist movement entered the 1940s to find the field practically clear for it, with the international climate extremely favourable following the psychological and political atmosphere caused by Hitler’s massacres of the Jews, while the Arab regimes in the neighbouring Arab countries were bourgeois regimes in the historical predicament without any real power. Nor was there in Jewish society in Palestine at that time any leftist movement to exert pressure in the opposite direction – practically the whole of this society was devoted to settlement through invasion. The Palestinian left had, with the Second World War, begun to lose the initiative with which it had started in the mid-1930s, as a result of the change in Comintern policy, accompanied by the failure to Arabise the Party. What is more, the communist left was becoming more and more subject to repression by the defeated Arab leadership (for example, the Mufti’s men assassinated the trade unionist leader Sami Taha in Haifa on 12 September 1947 and before that, the assassination in Jaffa of the unionist Michel Mitri, who had played an important role in mobilising Arab workers before the outbreak of the troubles in 1936).
All this enabled the Zionist movement in the mid-1940s to step up its previously only partial conflict with British colonialism in Palestine, after long years of alliance.”
From that point on the writer, and his family, like so many Palestinians became a stateless person, a refugee, “deterritorialized, disempowered, and disenfranchised”. (Barbara Harlow)
Ghassan Kanafani (in a letter to his son)
“Do not believe that man grows. No; he is born suddenly—a word, in a moment, penetrates his heart to a new throb. One scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood on to the ruggedness of the road.”
Forced to leave both home and country with his family and fleeing what he described as “Zionist terror”, sharing in the ongoing ‘Nakba’ (Catastrophe) of the Palestinian people from 1947-8, where “the armed forces of what would become the Israeli state drove more than 700,000 Arab Palestinians from homes they had lived in for centuries”. His family fled first to Lebanon and later to Syria, where he worked as a schoolteacher in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
“The mercy of God be upon you, Ustaz Selim, the mercy of God be upon you. God was certainly good to you Mien he made you die one night before the wretched village fell into the hands of the Jews. One night only. O God, is there any divine favor greater than that? It is true that the men were too busy to bury you and honor you in your death. But all the same you stayed there. You stayed there. You saved yourself humiliation and wretchedness, and you preserved your old age from shame. The mercy of God be upon you, Ustaz Selim. If you had lived, if you had been drowned by poverty as I have, I wonder if you would have done what I am doing now. Would you have been willing to carry all your years on your shoulders and flee across the desert to Kuwait to find a crust of bread?” (‘Men in the Sun’)
He was to live and work in Damascus, then Kuwait and later in Beirut prior to joining the Palestinian revolutionary movement.
“The only thing we know is that tomorrow will be no better than today, and that we are waiting on the banks, yearning, for a boat that will not come. We are sentenced to be separated from everything—except from our own destruction.” (Diary 1959-60, quoted by Barbara E Riley).
Literature, Life, Resistance
After their brief stay in Lebanon, his family eventually settled in Damascus, where Kanafani completed his education and received a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) teaching certificate in 1952. Soon after he enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus where he began his involvement in the pan-Arabist Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), to which he had been recruited by Dr. George Habash when the two met in 1953. In 1956 he moved to Kuwait to teach and in 1960, the year before his marriage, he relocated again, this time to Beirut…
“The goal of education is to correct the march of history. For this reason we need to study history and to apprehend its dialectics in order to build a new historical era, in which the oppressed will live, after their liberation by revolutionary violence, from the contradiction that captivated them.” (Tribute to Ghassan Kanafani)
A year later Kanafani met Anni Hoover, a Danish teacher who had come to Beirut to study the Palestinian refugee situation; in two months they were married. “School teaches nothing. It only teaches laziness. So leave it and plunge into the frying pan with the rest of humanity.” (‘Men in the Sun’)
1964 saw the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to be soon followed by the launch of the armed struggle to regain Palestine.
“Vietnamese revolutionaries have been struggling against imperialism for tens of years. They will transfer their revolution to other places; first, because their revolution is continuous, second, because they are internationalists . . .”
“The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is, as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.”
“Kanafani was also a prolific — if presciently critical — contributor to the political philosophy of Palestinian resistance and, in particular, its consequences for the then-ongoing debates on national liberation, international solidarity, and, in the Palestinian context, a democratic secular state in all of Palestine.”
“If Nazism was responsible for terrorising the Jews and forcing them out of Germany, it was “democratic” capitalism – in collaboration with the Zionist movement – that was responsible for directing comparatively large numbers of Jewish migrants to Palestine…” (‘The 1936 Revolt in Palestine’)
By 1967, Kanafani was working as a radical journalist and serving on the editorial board of the al-Anwar (Illumination) newspaper. In June 1967 Arab forces were defeated by the Israeli military in the Six-Day War, ending the period of revolutionary struggles ((the naksa, or “setback”), “the apogee of the national liberation struggle throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as the Middle East, struggles that sought to mark the end of territorial imperialism.” (Barbara Harlow)
This new defeat –
(“…That generation which had been so brought up on defeat and displacement that it had come to think that a happy life was a kind of social deviation” Kanafani)
– was to prompt the foundation, on 11 December 1967 – and led by George Habash, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a coalition of several Palestinian factions, with Kanafani becoming its first Secretary-General.
“Sometimes I can say it in the official news of the morning, sometimes fashioned into an editorial, or into a small piece on the society page. Sometimes I can’t say what I want to say in anything but a story.” (1962 Letter)
Ghassan Kanafani participated in the founding of this radical Marxist Palestinian organisation – (“The founding of the Front was an injection of a new hope out of the rubble of defeat, on an intellectual, political, and struggling level, to carry forward and raise the banner of the revolution, struggle, and national liberation movement against the Zionist project.” PFLP, 2016) – drafting the PFLP program in which the movement officially took up Marxism-Leninism at the same time becoming the spokesman for the organisation and by 1969 had become editor of its journal Al-Hadaf, (The Target), the weekly paper of the group. He was also elected to its politburo. “As the PFLP spokesperson and an author of its 1969 August Programme, he continuously demonstrated his deep commitment to the Palestinian struggle.” (Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, 2005)
“The desire for change which is sweeping through the Arab masses, must be motivated by ideological and political clarity, which is absolute. Thus, Al Hadaf devotes itself to the service of that revolutionary alternative, as the interests of the oppressed classes are the same as the goals of the revolution. It presents itself as the ally of all those carrying on armed and political-ideological struggle to achieve a liberated progressive nation.”
At the same time he continued to write creatively and in 1969 published two more novellas, Return to Haifa and Sa‘d’s Mother – (Umm Sa’ad, “…the portrait of a mother who encourages her son to take up arms as a resistance fedayeen in full awareness that the choice of life might eventuate in his death”) – merging, as he was to tell his niece (“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…”), his revolutionary work with his creative writing career. He became well known for his “prolific literary output, highly acclaimed for its innovative techniques, social consciousness, and fluent understanding of the Palestinian condition” winning the Lebanese Literature Prize (awarded for the novella All That’s Left to You) in 1966 and, posthumously, the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference Lotus Prize in 1975.”
In these short years Kanafani was also to become known for the concept of “Resistance literature” through two studies on Palestinian literature under Israeli occupation published in 1966 and 1968: Adab al-Muqa ̄ wama f ̄ı filistı ̄n al-muhtalla 1948 – 1966 (1966, Literature of ̇ Resistance in Occupied Palestine 1948–1966), and al-adab al-filistı ̄nı ̄ al-muqa ̄ wim ta ̇ht al-i ̇htilal 1948–1968 (1968, Palestinian Resistance Literature under Occupation 1948–1968).
“Palestinian history, at least from the 1930s, is marked by both armed and cultural resistance. And just as the revolutions undertaken by the Palestinian people produced names such as Ezz el-Din al-Qassam, for instance, so too did resistance literature, before, during, and after the revolutions, produce names that Arab citizens continue to recall with great fondness, most prominent among which were Ibrahim Tuqan, Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Abu Salma (the pseudonym for Abdel Karim al-Karmi), and others.” (Al-Adab Al-filistı ̄nı ̄ Al-muqa ̄wim Taht Al-ihtilal 1948– 1968, translated by Joseph R. Farag)
“Kanafani’s own critical contributions were significant to informing that narrative, such as, for example, his 1968 lecture/essay, “Thoughts on Change and the ‘Blind Language.’” The essay’s projective itinerary, which seeks to look past the 1967 defeat toward a still imminent renewal, can be further located within the larger political debates of the period, which was perhaps the apogee of the national liberation struggle throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as the Middle East, struggles that sought to mark the end of territorial imperialism. Self-criticism (naqd al-dhati), the need for an adequate assessment of the material and political strengths of the “enemy,” was likewise critical to the resistance agendas of other “third world” intellectuals such as Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau and Frantz Fanon, as was the debate between vanguardism and popular struggle from Nicaragua and El Salvador to the Philippines and Vietnam. But Kanafani’s “thoughts on change” were also focused on the “younger generations” in the Arab world and the possibilities for social and political renewal — the “critical spirit” that these cohorts represented.” (Essay, Resistance in Writing: Ghassan Kanafani and the “Question of Palestine” )
All told his published works included five novels, two of them unfinished at the time of his death, five collections of short stories, two plays, along with the two studies of Palestinian literature.
“Kanafani… until his untimely violent death, maintained in his stories as in his polemics, both an active endorsement of the armed struggle and an equally unrelenting challenge to the sectarianism of both Palestinian and, especially, Israeli agendas and their concomitant implementations. The historical narrative was crucial.”
1972: Of His Death
On July 8, 1972, when Ghassan Kanafani and his niece Lamees got into the booby-trapped car, his wife Anni Kanafani sat inside the house with their nine-year-old son, Fayez and his two cousins, Lamees’ brothers. Their daughter Laila, who was five, was sitting on the steps of the house eating chocolate her father had just given her:
“All the windows in the house were blown out. I ran down, only to find the burning remains of our small car. We found Lamees a few meters away, Ghassan wasn’t there. I called his name – then I discovered his left leg. I stood paralyzed, while Fayez knocked his head against the wall and our daughter Laila cried again and again: ‘Baba, Baba…’
“Still I had a small hope that maybe he was only seriously injured… They found him in the valley beside our house and took him away – I had no chance to see him again.
Usamah sat beside the body of his dead sister, telling her, ‘Don’t worry, Lamees, you’ll be all right and you’ll teach me English again, like before…’
“In the evening our little Laila told me: ‘Mama, I asked Baba to take me in the car and buy chocolate, but he was busy and gave me a bar he had in his pocket. Then he kissed me and told me to go home. I sat on the steps of our house to eat the chocolate, and then there was a big bang. But Mama, it wasn’t his fault – the Israelis put the bomb in Baba’s car.”
Lest we forget
“Anni Kanafani led the massive funeral procession through the streets of Beirut, Fayez by her side. Ghassan’s remains were wrapped in the Palestinian flag, and as his body was lowered into its final place, it is said that his young son raised his fingers in the sign of victory. Many of Kanafani’s characters, including the protagonist of Returning to Haifa, saw victory in the sacrifice of their sons to the Palestinian cause. In the end, Kanafani’s own son saw victory in the sacrifice of his father”. (Karen E. Riley)
Kanafani’s obituary in Lebanon’s The Daily Star wrote that:
“He was a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”
Kanafani’s brutal death, the work of the Israeli secret service Mossed, is believed to be in retaliation for the Lod Airport killings carried out by the Japanese Red Army faction, and organised by Wadie Haddad, the leader of the military wing of the group, who was himself assassinated by Mossad in early 1978 having been expelled from the PFLP in 1973.
Despite his support for the armed struggle, neither Kanafani nor his 17 year-old niece, were involved in planning the series of ongoing attacks organised against “imperialist targets” at the time.
“There is, however, considerable evidence that this was a rogue operation not approved by the PFLP high command. It went against the group’s established rejection of violence against civilians and the one Palestinian involved in its planning, Wadie Haddad, was expelled from the group soon after…
“Whatever responsibility the PFLP may have borne for Lod, therefore, Kanafani carried none of it – certainly not enough to justify his murder by the Israeli state (if anything could justify such barbarity).” Radical Tea Towel
Anni Kanafani relates her husband’s response when a Western correspondent asked him, shortly before he was killed, “whether death had a meaning to him” (Hilary Kilpatrick):
“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. The love of life for a person becomes a love for the life of his peoples masses, and his rejection that their life persists in being full of continuous misery, suffering, and hardship. Hence, his understanding of life becomes a social virtue, capable of convincing the militant fighter that self-sacrifice is a redemption of his peoples life. This is a maximum expression of attachment to life.”
“Like Roque Dalton’s revisioning of militarism… Kanafani’s critique of militarism` was an anathema to recalcitrant forces in his own movement as it was to the Zionism of the state of Israel.”
- Marwan (July 22, 1972):
“Ghassan’s commitment will remain a monument for the struggling masses. He said in a meeting with the staff of Al Hadaf:
‘Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.’” (Tribute to Ghassan Kanafani)
“It was clear that the Israelis knew the talents of someone like Kanafani and his services to the Palestinian cause, even if he never played any military role in the movement. Israel would rather have people like Mahmoud Abbas, Muhammad Dahlan, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Jibril Rajoub around. Those people continue to damage the Palestinian revolution while Kanafani served the cause every single day of his life.
“Declassified American archival reports show keen interest in the case of Ghassan Kanafani. The Americans and the Israelis were bothered by Kanafani’s media role, and some US documents would make specific references to press conferences he held. Weeks before his assassination, Kanafani was roughed up by thugs in West Beirut. An-Nahar published the story and mocked the claim by Kanafani. When Wadie Haddad heard of this, he was troubled. His associates would say: but if this was the Mossad, they would have killed him instantly. Haddad said at the time: not necessarily. Not necessarily. Haddad’s hunch was right.” (The Electronic Intifada)
“His inspiration for writing and working unceasingly was the Palestinian-Arab struggle…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.” (‘The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine’)
“The natural base for Ghassan’s intellectual and artistic work was adopting and defending the interests of the toiling masses, not only of the Palestinians, but also the Arabs and the international oppressed classes. Because of this fundamental base for all of his work, Ghassan Kanafani, as a Marxist, adopted the path of armed struggle as the only way to defend the oppressed.
“He was himself part of them; he lived and experienced the poverty caused by capitalism and imperialism and he remained within the ranks of the oppressed masses, in spite of the capitalists’ temptations and their attempts to encircle his journalistic life. He remained a humble man who worked day and night to raise and develop the quality of human life out of the adversity imposed by history.”
On a day this week, in 1972, Ghassan Kanafani, the “commando who never fired a gun”, completed the first part of his journey – from witnessing the defeat of his people and the occupation of his land in 1948 – to the resurgence of the Palestinian struggle which continues and will continue until a peaceful resolution, within the painful limits of our history –
(“If humankind produce social reality (which in the “inversion of the praxis” turns back upon them and conditions them), then transforming that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity.” Paulo Freire)
– is found.
“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…” Ghassan Kanafani.
“The huge lorry was carrying them along the road, together with their dreams, their families, their hopes and ambitions, their misery and despair, their strength and weakness, their past and future, as if it were pushing against the immense door to a new, unknown destiny, and all eyes were fixed on the door’s surface as though bound to it by invisible threads.” (‘Men in the Sun’)
“But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.
The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of labor, for the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as persons … is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.” Paulo Freire
Graffiti tribute to Ghassan Kanafani in Palestinian territory
Picture taken and uploaded by Justin McIntosh,
Ghassan Kanafani, by Anni Kanafani (“fair-use”)
Ghassan Kanafani, Palestine’s Children,
Translated and Introduction by Barbara Harlow & Karen E. Riley (2000)
Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun
Translated by Hilary Kilpatrick (1999)
Politics and Palestinian Literature in Exile: Gender, Aesthetics and Resistance in the Short Story
Joseph R. Farag, SOAS Palestinian Studies / I.B.Tauris, (2017)
Watch Ghassan Khanafani in Interview in Beirut in 1970: on the Conversation between the sword and the neck…
Interview with PFLP spokesman, Ghassan Kanafani, 1970, by upitn reporter Michael Nicholson about the recent guerilla demands for which they would release their hostages
“To us to liberate our country to have dignity to have respect to have our human rights is something as essential as human life itself” Ghassan Kanafani
FUNERAL OF KANAFANI, PLFP SPOKESMAN
Anna Kanafani, and her sister-in-law at a press conference at which she announced that she was joining the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
John Berger reads Ghassan Kanafani’s Letter From Gaza.
“Ghassan Kanafani” written by his wife, Anni after his assassination by Mossad in 1972. Published by the Palestine Research Center, Beirut.
The 1936 REVOLT IN PALESTINE
http://www.newjerseysolidarity.org/resources/kanafani/kanafanicover.htmlGhassan Kanafani: The Symbol of the Palestinian Tragedy, Rasem Al-Madhoon
Letter from Gaza (1955) by Ghassan Kanafani
Ghassan Kanafani, The Land of Sad Oranges
Kanafani’s The Stolen Shirt
Ghassan Kanafani, Excerpt from Returning to Haifa