For the love of Palestine: on Ghassan Kanafani's 'literature of resistance'

For the love of Palestine: on Ghassan Kanafani's 'literature of resistance'
Kanafani's resilience and ability to love was his way of showing that Israeli occupation, may have traumatised him, but will not win in numbing him, writes Diana Alghoul.
3 min read
08 July, 2017
Ghassan Kanafani [Wikimedia]
Saturday marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Palestinian resistance leader, academic and author Ghassan Kanafani. The leader of the Palestinian Communist branch, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was assassinated in Beirut by Mossad.

He was known as a “commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages”. Kanafani was a passionate nationalist who lived his life with the trauma of experiencing the Nakba just before becoming a teenager, at the age of 12.

His legacy is subjective. There are those who hail him as a hero and others who smear him as a terrorist. There are those who focus on his politics, whilst others focus on his writing. Sometimes he’s remembered as a hard-hitting advocate for resistance and other times he’s remembered as a hopeless romantic.

Though, something he had made clear throughout his life is that while his both his politics and his romantic demeanour may seem to contrast, they must never be divorced.

One of his most famous quotes was: “We write for Palestine with blood,” with the use of the word “blood” making people interpret the quote from a purely violent perspective.

The concept of adab al moqawameh, translated as the resistance of literature being just as important as physical resistance, is one Kanafani cemented.

Understandably, it is often interpreted as supplementing military resistance. Usually what spring to mind are pamphlets which attract recruits. However, this is only a tiny fraction of the picture.

In a letter to his lover Ghada El-Samman, he wrote: “You are in my skin, my feelings for Palestine are like my feelings for you: its loss is a disaster which cannot be replaced”.

Here, he combined his role as a husband and father, in which he became gentle, forgiving and caring with his role as a resistance leader, in which he must become fearless and confrontational, showing that in his mind, there was no contradiction between the two.

Therefore, despite his persona changing when he becomes the resistance leader by militarising himself, the root of his passion for Palestine was driven by his sensitive inner-psyche.

He was not inspired to resist by a surge of testosterone, but by his fragile emotions, in which he showed no shame for having.

For the reader who has not experienced the Nakba, they may interpret this as Kanafani creating a matrix of his passions, stemming from his emotional investment in both his wife and the Palestinian cause. 

Though for Kanafani, loving was also a form of resistance because it was his way of carrying on with life, despite his childhood trauma. His resilience, was his way of showing that Israeli occupation may have traumatised him, but will not win in numbing him.

Loving, be it Palestine, his writing, his lover, or his children was his way of reminding the world that Palestinians will carry on, no matter what. To Kanafani, the Palestinian does not grow out of Palestine, the Palestinian remembers Palestine through every emotion and every action.

This is what adab al moqawameh is. It is not only about documenting and supplementing physical resistance, but also a collection of experiences, emotions and life stories. He taught Palestinians that feeling happiness and fulfilment is not abandoning the cause, nor is it betraying those who are directly oppressed. It is a form of resilience, coupled with the Palestinian identity, it teaches the world that the Palestinian will always live and excel not just for themselves, but for their culture and their cause.