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Ghassan Kanafani
Akka, Palestine
(1936 - 1972)
Ghassan Kanafani - Palestinian writer and political activist for Palestinian liberation.
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Ghassan Kanafani

(born April 9, 1936 in Acre, Palestine - died July 8, 1972 in Beirut, Lebanon) was a Palestinian writer and political activist for Palestinian liberation.

Early years

Ghassan Fayiz Kanafani was born in Acre in 1936, in what was then the British Palestine Mandate, to Sunni Muslim Palestinian parents. His father was a lawyer, and sent Ghassan to French missionary school. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Kanafani and his family were forced into exile. They fled to Lebanon, but soon moved on to Damascus, Syria, to live there as Palestinian refugees. Kanafani completed his secondary education in Damascus and received a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) teaching certificate in 1952.

Political background

The same year he enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus but was expelled in 1955 as a result of his involvement in the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), a left-wing pan-Arab organization to which he had been recruited by Dr. George Habash when the two met in 1953. He moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher and became more politically active. In Kuwait he edited al-Ra'i (The Opinion), which was an ANM-affiliated newspaper, and also became interested in Marxist philosophy and politics.

In 1960, he relocated once again to Beirut, where he began editing the ANM mouthpiece al-Hurriya. In 1961, he met Anni Høver, a Danish children's rights activist, with whom he had two children. In 1962, Kanafani briefly had to go underground, since he, as a stateless person, lacked proper identification papers. He reappeared in Beirut later the same year, and took up editingship of the Nasserist newspaper al-Muharrir (The Liberator). He went on to become an editor of another Nasserist newspaper, al-Anwar (The Illumination), in 1967.

Involvement in PFLP

The Palestinian membership of the ANM evolved in 1967 into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), of which Kanafani became a spokesman. In 1969, he drafted a PFLP program in which the movement officially took up Marxism-Leninism. He also edited the movements newspaper, al-Hadaf (The Target), which he had founded in 1969, writing political, cultural and historical essays and articles. On July 8, 1972, Ghassan Kanafani and his niece were assassinated by a bomb planted in his car in Beirut. It is widely believed to have been planted by agents of Israel, which had a policy of assassinating Palestinian figures.

Literary production

  • Ghassan Kanafani is considered a major modernizing influence on Arab literature, and remains a major figure in Palestinian literature. He was an early proponent of complex narrative structures, using flashback effects and a chorus of narrator voices for effect.
  • His writings focused mainly on the themes of Palestinian liberation and struggle, and often touched upon his own experiences as a refugee. He was, as was the PFLP, a Marxist, and believed that the class struggle within Palestinian and Arab society was intrinsically linked to the struggle against Zionism and for a Palestinian state.
  • He wrote both short stories and novels (the most famous is probably Men in the Sun), and scholarly work on literature and politics. His thesis, Race and Religion in Zionist Literature, formed the basis for his 1967 study On Zionist Literature.
  • He was also an active literary critic. His seminal work, Palestinian Literature Under Occupation, 1948-1968, introduced Palestinian writers and poets to the Arab world. He also wrote a major critical work on Zionist and Israeli literature. In the spirit of Jean-Paul Sartre, he called for an engaged literature which would be committed to change.
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Ghassan Kanafani