Ghassan Kanafani (Photo: Flickr)
This May marks the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) in Palestine in 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were forced off their land, in some cases at gunpoint, in other cases through massacres or threats of massacres like the massacre at Deir Yassin. Hundreds of villages were completely destroyed or depopulated. Today, the suffering in Palestine continues: from the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, to the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, to the continued siege of the people of Gaza – deprived of food, water, electricity, and medicine- to the mass detention of tens of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners.
Each year we approach this date and millions worldwide are overcome with a strong emotional reaction, a feat showing how deeply rooted their connection to the Palestinian issue is. This is true even for third and fourth generation Palestinians who are unable to fulfill their right to return; a powerful emotional connection passed on from generation to generation.
Ghassan Kanafani’s words are perfect to capture this connection. Few Palestinian writers will ever evoke as strong a response as a mere mention of Ghassan Kanafani’s name does. A teacher, journalist, and writer, Kanafani’s wide reach of influence continues even today, especially in the terms of his literature. His works will forever have a seamless connection to the hope for freedom in Israel/Palestine, a goal that even Kanafani knew would become the responsibility of future Israeli and Palestinian generations.
“I was just asking. I’m looking for the true Palestine, the Palestine that’s more than memories, more than peacock feathers, more than a son, more than scars written by bullets on the stairs… Tens of thousands like Khalid won’t be stopped by the tears of men searching in the depths of their defeat for scraps of armor and broken flowers. Men like Khalid are looking toward the future, so they can put right our mistakes and the mistakes of the whole world.” (From Return to Haifa)
If there’s one thing Kanafani attempted to do through his works, it was to show the Jews and Palestinians that they were more similar than they knew. Let us hope these similarities are realized and leveraged to achieve a lasting peace in the near future.
Kanafani was assassinated in Beirut in 1972.