Ghassan Kanafani: Palestinian revolutionary leader and martyr

Kanfani's words; “the Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary… as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era”, are more relevant than ever today. 

ghassan kanafani

Ghassan Kanafani (1936-72), a Palestinian revolutionary and writer, was assassinated on this day 48 years ago by Mossad. His writings and politics hold important lessons for us today, especially in light of Israel’s ongoing efforts to expand its annexation of the West Bank and the growing popular movement in opposition to it, demanding justice for Palestinians. 

Interview by Richard Carleton, Beirut 1970:

Ghassan Kanafani 1970 Interview

In this rare video from 1970, Palestinian revolutionary socialist and martyred resistance leader, Ghassan Kanafani answers why stopping the fight for liberation isn't an option and why he refused to talk to Israeli leaders. ⁠⁠"That's the kind of conversation between the sword and the neck."

Posted by Redfish on Friday, July 3, 2020


(Longer clip of same interview:

Early life

Kanafani was born into a middle-class family in 1936 in the city of Acre, which was then under the British mandate of Palestine. His father, Fayiz Kanafani, was a lawyer and an opponent of the British occupation. 

At the age of 12, Kanafani and his family were forced into exile along with thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba. The Nakba, or the Palestinian Exodus, in 1948 saw more than 7,00,000 Palestinians expelled or forced to flee from their homeland due to the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli War, which ended with the establishment of the State of Israel. Kanafani’s family settled in Damascus along with many other Palestinian refugees. Apart from the struggles of being a refugee, Kanafani also suffered from type I diabetes from an early age. Nonetheless, he completed his secondary education in Damascus and worked as an art teacher in schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Also Read: The Ongoing Nakba: Palestinian Freedom Struggle and the BDS Movement


He enrolled at the University of Damascus in the Department of Arabic Literature but was expelled before he could graduate on account of his political ties with the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN). His involvement with this anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist movement from 1952-3, under the influence of Dr. George Habash, could be considered to mark the beginning of his political activism. For him, the struggle against imperialism involved embracing socialism. 

He moved from Damascus to Kuwait in 1956 and, in 1960, to Beirut. Here, he edited the newspaper of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), al-Hurriya. Apart from journalistic articles, he also wrote essays on Zionist literature and on the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt against the British colonialists. He condemned what he saw as the British state’s collusion with the Zionist project. 

The Six-Day War in 1967 resulted in a victory for Israel and expanded its control over territories such as the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem (among others). This war marked a shift in Kanafani’s political thought and writing. He was convinced of the need for more radical and active resistance to Israeli occupation and believed that a social revolution was the only way through which a free Palestine could be created. He joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in December 1967. He drafted the program of the PFLP in 1969, in which the movement officially adopted the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism. He was also the founder and editor of PFLP’s newspaper, al-Hadaf (The Target). 

At the time of his assassination, Kanafani was the official spokesperson of the PFLP. Mossad justified his assassination as a response to the Lod airport attack a few months earlier. Kanafani, along with his 17-year-old niece, were killed by a bomb planted in his car. 

Literature as Resistance

Kanafani was as much a writer as he was a revolutionary. He wrote short stories and novels, which are critically acclaimed and translated into 17 languages and published in over 20 countries. Some of his best works include Returning to Haifa, Men in the Sun, and All That’s Left to You

He coined the term ‘Palestinian resistance literature’ and the stories he wrote reflected the painful and complex reality of Palestinian refugees. His fiction was inextricably tied to his political convictions as he asserted that “politics and the novel are an indivisible case and I can categorically state that I became politically committed because I was a novelist, not the opposite… something very important would be missing if I were not politically involved and I would feel greatly diminished if I had not been a novelist at the same time”. 

When asked to give up revolutionary activities and focus more on his writing instead, he responded; “I write well because I believe in a cause, in principles. The day I leave these principles, my stories will become empty”. 


On his death, his obituary in Lebanon’s The Daily Star described him as “a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages”. His significance to the Palestinian liberation struggle is recognised not only by his admirers but seemingly by the Israeli state too, which ordered the demolition of a statue of Kanafani in his birthplace in late 2018. 

His observation decades ago, that “the Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary… as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era”, is more relevant than ever today. 

Video Courtesy: Redfish



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