[News] Palestine - The second life of Ghassan Kanafani

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 13 10:42:41 EDT 2017


  The second life of Ghassan Kanafani

July 12, 2017

Ghassan Kanafani at his Beirut office. (/Assafir/ 

In the early 1970s, three Palestinian intellectuals – Ghassan Kanafani, 
Majed Abu Sharar and Kamal Nasser – collaborated to form the Palestine 
Liberation Organization’s information office.

Within a decade, Israeli terrorists managed to kill all three – Kanafani 
in 1972, Nasser in 1973 and Abu Sharar in 1981.

The Zionist movement has never bothered to distinguish in its killing 
campaigns between civilians and military targets: in fact, on many 
occasions the Israeli government (or even the Zionist movement before 
the establishment of the occupation state) targeted civilians on purpose 
to create terror among the population. Presumably, Israel wanted to kill 
Kanafani and silence his voice. Yet the plan did not work as intended.

Forty-five years this month since his assassination, Kanafani’s presence 
is ubiquitous.

On Arab social media, even among the young generation who are not 
accustomed to reading books, one notices him everywhere. His image is 
made the profile picture of countless Arabs, and quotations from his 
articles fill the social media space. His drawings, posters and designs 
are quite common these days. They stand as symbols for revolution and 
Palestine and more.

The publication of his love letters to Syrian writer Ghada Samman (who 
conveniently never published any of her letters to Kanafani) in 1992 
produced a new image of Kanafani. The love letters are quoted widely by 
Arab women on social media, and his romantic yearnings for Samman are 
now the stuff of love legends, in the same league of Romeo and Juliet – 
or Qays and Layla among the Arabs.

I never knew Ghassan Kanafani: he was murdered when I was only 12. Yet I 
heard about him from an early age; I don’t remember when I did not 
recognize his name. My uncle, Naji AbuKhalil, worked with Kanafani at 
/Huriyyah/, the mouthpiece of the Arab Nationalist Movement. The 
magazine was the headquarters of avant-garde intellectuals who spoke of 
arts, literature and politics. Those were the people who introduced Arab 
readers to French leftist writers and who spoke of the Palestinian cause 
in peculiarly Marxist language – a language which was sharply demarcated 
from the stale and archaic language of orthodox Arab Marxists who never 
recovered from their subservient approval of Soviet support for the 1947 
United Nations partition plan for Palestine.

    Concerned with liberation of Palestine

I remember how fondly my uncle would talk about Kanafani, and how much 
his one-sided love story with Samman bothered his friends. Kanafani was 
very popular among men and women, and yet he was fixated on Samman. His 
friends would urge him to end his fixation to no avail: Samman occupied 
Kanafani’s heart but not his mind, which was filled with concerns with 
the larger project of the liberation of Palestine. Kanafani was also 
seen as vulnerable: he suffered from diabetes and would have to inject 
himself daily with insulin. Sometimes he would faint, and had to be fed 

Kanafani was known among the café society of Lebanon and had a sense of 
humor. He and my uncle once conspired to mock the new “free verse 
movement,” which was championed by right-wing Lebanese who were 
associated with /Shi’r/ (Poetry) magazine. Once, Kanafani and my uncle 
(among others, if I remember correctly) sat together and patched various 
disconnected sentences and sent it to a publication. Sure enough, the 
poem was published with high praise for the new talent of a person 
(using a fictitious name of the conspirators).

But Kanafani was also known to us and others as a prolific Lebanese 
columnist and journalist. He was essential in the life of major 
publications at the time. He edited the /Filastin/ (Palestine) 
supplement to the highly popular /al-Muharrir/ newspaper (/al-Muharrir/ 
was an Arab nationalist newspaper which represented the counter-current 
to the right-wing /An-Nahar/, which expressed the views of US and Gulf 
policies). /Al-Muharrir/ was essential in disabusing many young Lebanese 
of the various Lebanese nationalist myths, and also in inculcating us 
with strong convictions about Palestine.

Kanafani also wrote in /al-Hawadeth/ magazine and also in /Al Anwar/ 
newspaper. At /Al Anwar/, Kanafani started the cultural weekly 
supplement. He also wrote in /al-Hawadeth/ using the name Rabie Matar 
and used the name Faris Faris at /Al Anwar/. But his mainstream and very 
successful Lebanese media role came to an end after 1967.

In the wake of the defeat of the 1967 War 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/shock-defeat-1967/20691>, the 
various branches of the Arab Nationalist Movement were to transform into 
country-specific Marxist-Leninist organizations. The Palestinian branch 
would emerge as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) 
in late 1967. Unbeknownst to many, the idea of the magazine which came 
to personify him was not his own idea. It is still not known that the 
man who launched /Al-Hadaf/ magazine, the mouthpiece to this day of the 
PFLP, was none other than Wadie Haddad.

Haddad had a great media sense and knew that information was part of the 
Palestinian struggle. He was also concerned that most of the 
left-leaning intellectuals of the Arab Nationalist Movement were 
gravitating toward Nayef Hawatmeh, the arch-rival of George Habash 
Haddad’s closest comrade and friend. Haddad allocated the money and 
assigned Kanafani to launch the project, which came about in 1969.

    Kanafani’s imprint

/Al-Hadaf/ was not like any other magazine before or since. It would 
leave its imprint on revolutionary media worldwide. From the offices of 
/Al-Hadaf/ on Corniche al-Mazraa in Beirut, Kanafani designed and 
produced some of the most spectacular posters of the Palestinian revolution.

He made Arab Marxist revolutionary ideas cool and trendy, unlike the 
boring media of the Lebanese Communist Party. He combined art with 
literature and information, all for the purpose of the liberation of 
Palestine. The magazine was also keen on transparency: it published all 
the financial contributions it received from around the world. Sometimes 
they were money transfers from Arab students in Western countries 
(before that was banned as an act of terrorism) to donations in kind 
from poor residents of the Palestinian refugee camps.

The magazine, and Kanafani personally, were the first to bring attention 
to the status of Arab poets (especially Mahmoud Darwish 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-darwish>, Samih al-Qasim 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-darwish> and Tawfiq Zayyad 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/tawfiq-zayyad>) to larger Arab 
audiences. He broke with a silly taboo that looked with suspicion at 
those Arabs who stayed behind living under the rule of the Israeli 
occupation state.

/Al-Hadaf/ was the banner of the PFLP, and people from around the globe 
flocked there to meet Kanafani and also to join the organization. 
Kanafani’s open-door policy was a weakness and many enemy intelligence 
operatives were able to study him up close and follow him. In the weeks 
before his assassination, workers at /Al-Hadaf/ noticed that a more than 
usual number of Western women were visiting /Al-Hadaf/, always posing as 

Kanafani never tired of explaining the Palestinian cause to anyone who 
asked. His English was not fluent but he managed to express himself 
clearly and strongly (in this interview 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A2-vMqgs5U>, for example, Kanafani is 
sharp and does not concede one point to a journalist speaking from a 
mainstream Western perspective).

Some dogmatic hardliners would sneer at Kanafani for spending time with 
Western reporters and he would always answer by explaining that he would 
not stomach outbidding or one-upmanship from people who did not 
understand his work for the Palestinian cause. He would explain how he 
left a secure job at /Al Anwar/, which paid him 2,000 Lebanese pounds, 
to work for a job with the PFLP which paid him 700 pounds (Kanafani 
would add that /Al Anwar/ also paid him a bonus month’s salary in 
addition to various benefits).

Habash and Haddad both greatly admired Kanafani. Haddad would 
interrogate him about the international situation before he planned or 
executed any operation. Kanafani would also share with both men latest 
debates in the West about the Palestinian cause. Habash considered him 
his closest friend and would say upon his death: I lost half of me. Some 
would say that Habash was never the same after the assassination of 
Kanafani. When the PFLP held its Third National Congress in 1972, Habash 
assigned Kanafani to write the political report 
<http://pflp.ps/english/tasks-of-the-new-stage/> famously known as 
“Tasks of the New Stage.”

    Israel’s calculation

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 <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-abbas>, 
Muhammad Dahlan <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/muhammad-dahlan>, 
Yasser Abed Rabbo 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/yasser-abed-rabbo> and Jibril 
Rajoub <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/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.

It is not clear what the incident had to do with the assassination which 
came weeks later. Kanafani never took security precautions. He had a 
routine and it was known where he went: to /Al-Hadaf/ and to the various 
coffee shops frequented by journalists at the time. He also spent his 
Sundays with his family. His enemies found it easy to track him, 
especially as he lived (uncharacteristically) in East Beirut, a 
stronghold of Lebanese right-wing, anti-Palestinian parties.

Israel has never had to justify its killing of an artist, poet, 
calligrapher and journalist. Israel (and the Zionist movement before it) 
never bothered to explain the pattern of killing, of targeting, Arab 
civilians. People in the West said of Israeli murder: but Kanafani was a 
politburo member of the PFLP at the time of his death. The truth – 
rarely revealed – is that Kanafani was posthumously made a member of the 
politburo. Kanafani in his life had no patience for the life of a member 
of an organization which is consumed with long and boring meetings.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Kanafani’s legacy is 
enjoying a rebirth as he is discovered by a new generation of Arabs. 
Various websites are dedicated to him, and his books are published in 
various editions (and pirated in various editions). Who would believe 
that a man who was only 36 when he died would have such a lasting 
influence? Count that as yet another Zionist miscalculation.

/As’ad AbuKhalil is a professor of political science at California State 
University, Stanislaus./

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863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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