November 7, 2023
From Socialist Worker (UK)

An image of Palestinian writer and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani on a wall in Gaza

The face of Palestinian writer and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani on a wall in Gaza

Ghassan Kanafani’s writing, both political and fictional, have inspired generations of Palestinians and revolutionaries worldwide. Exiled from Palestine during the 1948 Nakba at the age of 12, he worked for the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism in the region until his assassination by Israel in 1972.

His analysis of the 1936-9 Palestinian Revolt—and its failures—identified the three overlapping enemies of the Palestinian people. They were “the local reactionary leadership, the regimes in the Arab states surrounding Palestine, and the imperialist-Zionist enemy.”

Kanafani helped found the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967. His analysis of the weaknesses of the movements of the 1930s was a guide to the tasks facing a new generation of fighters.

He wrote, “The Arab countries surrounding Palestine were playing two conflicting roles. On the one hand, the Pan-Arab mass movement was serving as a catalyst for the revolutionary spirit of the Palestinian masses.

“On the other hand, the established regimes in these Arab countries were doing everything in their power to help curb and undermine the Palestinian mass movement.

“The sharpening conflict in Palestine threatened to contribute to the development of the struggle in these countries in the direction of greater violence, creating a revolutionary potential that their respective ruling classes could not afford to overlook.”

That was a powerful understanding of what happened nearly 100 years ago. And it’s true today. The editorial in last week’s Economist business magazine reflects the continuing fear. “Bloodshed could radicalise people in the Middle East turning them against their governments,” it notes.

Another passage from Kanafani’s book about the period from 1936-39 shows the Zionist-imperialist alliance coming into being. “Britain became more convinced that it would have to rely on Zionists who had provided them with a unique situation that they had never found in any of their colonies—they had at their disposal a local force which had common cause with British colonialism and was highly mobilised against the local population.”

The PFLP committed itself to the armed struggle and set itself against any solution except the liberation of Palestine as a whole. Kanafani described the prospect of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians as akin to a conversation between a “sword and a neck”.

In Letter from Gaza, a short work of fiction written in 1956, Kanafani writes how Zionists “bombarded the central district of Sabha and attacked Gaza, our Gaza, with bombs and flame-throwers. This Gaza was more cramped than the mind of a sleeper in the throes of a fearful nightmare.”

He was famed for his prolific output. Kanafani’s friend and colleague Fadle Naqib noted.

“He loved writing, and he wrote in the way that you and I would breathe. He would write news, he would write editorials, he would write something about society and then literary criticism. I said to him, ‘You are not a human being, you are a writing machine.’”

Kanafani was a committed internationalist. He argued imperialism had, “laid its body over the world, the head in eastern Asia, the heart in the Middle East, its arteries reaching Africa and Latin America.”

And he declared, “Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the world revolution.”

He saw Palestine as, “A cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is. A cause of the exploited and oppressed masses.” So we echo Kanafani when we shout today, “In our thousands in our millions we are all Palestinians”.

Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories, and Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and Other Stories by Ghassan Kanafani are available from