Born in 1936, writer and leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Ghassan Kanafani witnessed the very painful Palestinian war in 1948, also known as Al-Nakba.
He was born in Akka, Palestine, before being forced to move with his family to Lebanon after the war. Kanafani’s family later moved to Syria and lived there amongst Palestinian refugees for a fair part of his life.
Kanafani only made it to 36 years of age before his assassination by the Mossad using a car bomb.
At first thought, the assassination would seem absolutely horrific, but when a reader starts to go through his novellas and short stories, as well as, of course, his articles on politics and the situation of the Arab and Palestinian cause, it would make perfect sense that he was a great threat to the Mossad with his fearless thinking, free of any shackles or boundaries.
In 1952, Kanafani enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus. However, he was soon expelled from the university for his strong political views. Kanafani was then exiled to Kuwait in which he lived for roughly eight years, before returning to Beirut to work as an editor from one newspaper to another.
On answering a question regarding the relation between his political life and being a novelist, Kanafani replied: “My political position springs from my being a novelist. In so far as I am concerned, politics and the novel are an indivisible case, and I can categorically state that I became politically committed because I am a novelist, not the opposite.”
Kanafani’s love to his home was so clear and vivid. One time he said: “Do you know why most writers love Paris? Because they never lived a day in Haifa.”
Indeed, his novellas and short stories, almost all of them, had something to do with the notion of ‘home’ and the idea of patriotism and war. Many of his works also focused on the Palestinian struggle through life, even when immigrating and living outside of their country.
This is what the novella “Men in the Sun” discussed. The idea of this work revolved around the illegal ways of fleeing the country and the struggle immigrants go through. The shocking ending of this novella makes you want to scream out loud.
What distinguished Kanafani’s works is that their endings always carry something either extremely heartbreaking, or extremely unfamiliar and bizarre. There is always a guessing that the writer wanted so much thinking from his readers. He never wanted them to be just readers; he wanted them to literally live the Palestinian struggle as it is written through his painful words.
One of the most well-known novellas for Kanafani would be “Returning to Haifa”; it revolved around the idea of home, and the way that being raised in a family will make you who you are now or later, an idea that resonates in any mind, to think that it is not we who shape ourselves, but life. It talks about the very desolate and melancholic side of war, like most of his other stories. But this one, this one in specific will not be just a book a reader reads and places back on the shelf for dust. It is different, and this is the further one can go with spoiling. Perhaps one of the most mind-blowing quotes a reader reads within the book would be:
“Do you know what home is, Safiyya?
Home is where all of this wouldn’t happen.”
When you read too much for Kanafani, the notion of ‘home’ will not leave you for a second. It’s true that home is where all of this wouldn’t happen, where all of this shouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t possibly be that easy to know what home really is, but you’d know that home really isn’t the place where you see this too much suffering and hear all these depressive stories on war and defeat or occupation.
A few days before his assassination, Kanafani wrote what was soon-to-be his last article on the political situation in the Arab world. Here is one of the strongest lines in the article:
“There must be something in the way Arabs were created that would make them so different from foreigners, especially Zionists. The reason for this is that David Elazar, Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at that time, was very polite when he expressed his regret for the death of civilians during an Israeli air raid on Lebanon, because this cannot be avoided. These words, in fact, were a complementary part to the Israeli motto raised so high saying that ‘a good Arab is a dead Arab’.”
Reading these words, a reader would not make a second guess as to why Kanafani’s life was a cause of threat to all politicians, not just Israel.
Kanafani’s last words on the article were that “what we now hear from Arab officials is only bleating”.
So, after all of this, do we know what home really is?