In the Footsteps of Ghassan Kanafani, on His Birthday

Kanafani spent his last decade based in Lebanon, working as a journalist, editor, and a leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). This short essay first   appeared on Bookwitty. Iraqi-Israeli novelist Sami Michael’s 2005 Hebrew novel Doves in Trafalgar was a response to Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa. In 1977, Israeli authorities banned the performance of a theatrical adaptation of Men in the Sun set to be staged in Nazareth. The baby, Khaldun/Dov, is raised by the Israeli couple who move into the abandoned house. In their “returning,” Khaldun/Dov’s Palestinian parents are finally able to meet their son. You cannot be an outsider.”
Even now, almost 45 years after Kanafani’s death, his work continues to be a touchtone for engagement and anger. Michael had criticisms of Returning to Haifa, particularly of the women’s voices, which he felt were muted. In 2011, Israeli playwright and journalist Boaz Goan told the Washington Post he was “shattered” by Kanafani’s short novel, particularly for how it lends sympathy both to the Israeli and the Palestinian characters. The diabetes didn’t often slow his pace, although Reem al-Madhoon writes, in her reflections on the author’s life, that Kanafani once fainted during a Cairo conference for the Arab Journalists’ Union. Azzawi later said in an interview with The Telegraph that “Kanafani made me aware of the importance of being part of what is happening in your generation. This first appeared on   Bookwitty. This led Goan to adapt the work into a 95-minute play, largely in Hebrew, that premiered in 2008, later traveling to audiences in the US. Kanafani’s work has also influenced visual arts: The great Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi published a collection of work entitled Drawings from the Land of Sad Oranges, based on Kanafani’s short stories. Celebrated novelist and short-story writer Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972) was 36 years old when he turned the key in his small Austin1100 on a street in Beirut, detonating a several-ton plastic bomb and killing the author and his young niece. Al-Madhoon describes Kanafani as an impassioned writer who would “frequently write and tear up the pages he wrote, aspiring always for something more beautiful and expressive.”
Kanafani must have struggled, as Elias Khoury did, with his roles in the political resistance and as an author. Readers around the world were robbed of Kanafani’s mature works by the bomb attached to his car in 1972, reportedly a retaliatory act by the Israeli Mossad. Elias Khoury writes that Habibi blew cigarette smoke in his face when Khoury defended the book. Haifa-based Palestinian novelist Emile Habibi railed against the novel when it first came out. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ First-ever ‘Global Humanities Translation Prize’ Brings Award to Mansur al-Hallaj PoemsCategories: Palestine Also in 2016, a Canadian teacher was suspended for calling Kanafani a martyr at a non-school event. Yet his short works, particularly Men in the Sun (1963) and Returning to Haifa (1970), continue to resonate down through the decades, inspiring engaged responses in visual art, celluloid, on the stage, and in other novels. In 2016, the first Ghassan Kanafani Writing Scholarship was launched, and several Kanafani-inspired theatre works were staged around the world. According to its director, Kanafani was able to see the film shortly before he died. One of Palestine’s best-loved authors, Kanafani, born April 8, lived a passionate, sometimes frenetic life in exile, outrunning death as he wrote short works that, as Elias Khoury says, “start at the end in order to reach the beginning, as if the tale were a stolen moment, as if an entire character could be stripped down to a single utterance before disappearing.”
As a boy, Kanafani was already shadowed by death: He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and forced to leave his Akka home in 1948, a twelve-year-old refugee. In the years following his assassination, Kanafani’s work continued to strike a raw nerve. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, a prolific Kanafani, wrote, edited, mentored other writers, gave interviews, attended conferences, worked on the PFLP’s political platform, and had two children. It also centers around 1948, when one of the infants of the family is taken and raised as David by an Israeli Holocaust survivor. But Kanafani reportedly told a Scandinavian radio station that while, “In my political work I defend the organization to which I belong…in my stories I give my characters the freedom to express their own positions without reservation.”
Some critics have said Kanafani’s writing was limited by his politics, calling his classic novel Return to Haifa “agitprop” whose time has passed. But it is Kanafani’s controversial and beloved Returning to Haifa that continues to spark the keenest discussion, literary reaction, and re-interpretation. Theatrical adaptations of Returning to Haifa have continued to strike a nerve. You can’t explain why you fell in love with someone.”
Susan Abulhawa’s popular and controversial 2010 novel Mornings in Jenin, written in English, also takes Returning to Haifa as a jumping-off point and inspiration. A film based on Men in the Sun—Kanafani’s classic novel of dispossession, opportunism, and migration—was released in 1972. In Kanafani’s short novel, a five-month-old baby is accidentally left behind in Haifa in 1948 in the chaos of evacuation. He studied literature at the University of Damascus and moved to Kuwait to work as a teacher before settling in Beirut, where he met his wife, the Danish activist Anni Høver. But while Kanafani’s life was brief, he did leave us works that are still being embraced, chewed over, argued with, and engaged in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and many other languages of the world. But he told Haaretz that he saw himself as the abandoned boy, and described his relationship with the book as “like love.