The revolutionary Palestinian writer and political leader Ghassan Kanafani once famously remarked, “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 words and life offer a searing rebuttal to the white, Western bourgeois idea of literature or “art” as irreversibly disconnected from political realities (as opposed to being cultural practices embedded within and reflective of these very realities). Kanafani’s ideas and example directly influenced literary critic Barbara Harlow’s concept of “resistance literature,” which positioned revolutionary literary praxis as the cultural extension of armed liberation struggles against colonial and imperial domination. Yet it is not “the political” as an abstract category that looms large in the life and work of Kanafani, or even, as strange as it may seem to say, Kanafani himself, so much as a physical place and a people–the place, of course, is Palestine and the people, all Palestinians who struggled against Zionist colonization, displacement and dispossession. In fact, Kanafani’s literary writings were fundamental in shifting a political and cultural Palestinian consciousness away from highly individualized accounts of colonial devastation towards one of collective identity through resistance.
Thus, when we as the Palestinian Youth Movement launched the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship in 2015, our aim was twofold: on the one hand, of course, we sought to commemorate the legacy and spirit of Kanafani himself who, despite his untimely death at the hands of Zionist agents at the age of 34, continues to inspire Palestinians across generations. And we were also seeking to honor the type of artistic/political praxis that Kanafani embodied so seamlessly, one in which the individual life and self inevitably fed into the larger collective liberation struggle. There is, Kanafani taught us, no single Palestinian story, for even the most seemingly isolated moments of dispossession and rupture may evoke a collective resonance. Ours is, and always will be, a shared struggle leading, inevitably toward liberation, true and full.
Open to Palestinians in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 25, the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship is one of several projects by which we in the PYM continue to answer the question of what it would mean to come together as a youth formation that rejects the political and geographic fragmentation imposed by the shameful legacy of the Oslo Accords, to return instead to an earlier vision of Palestine as a catalyst for struggle that binds Palestinians all over the globe.
The first anthology of scholarship recipients and distinguished contributors, “No Matter How Long the Separation,” was released in 2016 and followed by an extensive launch party on the part of the PYM–Bay Area chapter. The release of the 2017 anthology, “I Sew the Vacancy Into a Home,” was met with several launch parties across states and chapters. Below are some reflections and photos from different launch parties as compiled by members from each of the respective chapters:
LAOCIE and San Diego
The Los Angeles/Orange County/Inland Empire (LAOCIE) and San Diego chapters of PYM opted to join forces for an anthology launch party on April 28th, 2018 in the Khaled Bakrawi Center for Refugee and Immigrant Youth Empowerment. This choice of location for the launch is significant, as the Center represents PYM’s philosophy of service work for our communities being a direct part of our political convictions. Additionally, the legacy of Khaled Bakrawi himself, a PYM member and Palestinian-Syrian martyr from Yarmouk refugee camp, represents the non-negotiability of the Palestinian right of return and the need to understand the struggle against Zionism as not only entailing the settler-colonization of Palestine but, also, a larger fight against colonialism and imperialism that plagues the surrounding regions as well. The coincidence of location is also deeply resonant, given Kanafani’s own displacement to Syria following the nakba and his ceaseless attention to the refugee struggle’s centrality in the Palestinian cause and identity.
For the launch, PYM San Diego and LAOCIE screened several interviews with Ghassan Kanafani, followed by a series of questions and facilitated conversations about Kanafani’s beliefs on the material dimensions of the Palestinian struggle. The two chapters sought to demonstrate how Kanafani was not “merely” a writer or novelist but, also a profound political thinker whose convictions and insights were shaped by experiences on the ground; and how these two identities, as Kanafani himself professed, were coterminous rather than antagonistic. The launch also featured a reading of Omar Zahzah’s introduction to the 2017 anthology in the original English and in Arabic translation by Ayah Abubasheer, a reading by Dana Saifan of an original poem entitled “The Difference Between Hope and Faith,” and a musical performance by professional oud player Clarissa Bitar.
PYM–New York launched the 2017 Ghassan Kanafani anthology on a panel featuring contributor Aber Kawas and last year’s second place winner George Abraham, joined by Susan Abulhawa, Palestinian-American writer and author of the bestselling novel, “Mornings in Jenin.” This panel was one of many hosted at the first annual Palestine Lives conference held in New York City last May 2018, commemorating 70 years of resisting settler colonialism, co-hosted by Existence is Resistance, Within Our Lifetime, and PYM–New York. This Palestinian-led conference explored themes such as: Israeli state violence, the Gaza massacres, debunking myths about Zionism, being black in Palestine and connecting the Palestinian liberation with other liberation struggles in the USA, the African Continent and beyond, along with interactive workshops and film screenings.
During the Ghassan Kanafani anthology release panel, the role of literature in resistance and liberation was a common theme that arose among the discussants. Palestinian writers and artists serve the national liberation project by using their story telling to preserve our identity and to lend visibility to the Palestinian struggle in the spheres of art and literature.
PYM Austin launched the 2017 Ghassan Kanafani anthology at Resistencia Bookstore, a [email protected]/x, [email protected]/x, indigenous space on Austin’s East Side. The launch, co-organized with UT’s Palestine Solidarity Committee – Austin, featured a reading of Kanafani’s “The Land of Sad Oranges”, readings of Lydia Mousa and Nisreen Salem’s works from the 2016 anthology, and spoken word poetry performed by Noor al-Naji.
The feeling of camaraderie and shared struggle was palpable throughout the event, and the diverse audience (across ethnicities and generations) united around commentary on issues of settlement, colonialism and identity. PYM–Austin, as one of the newer formations of the PYM in the U.S., hopes to deepen its connections with the Palestinian and Arab community in the area, as well as strengthen its connections to indigenous peoples and various other communities in struggle.
PYM–Bay Area hosted the Ghassan Kanafani anthology launch June 1st, 2018 in Perch Coffeehouse, a locally owned and locally run coffee shop in Oakland, CA. The event included a community Iftar with Palestinian dishes made by Movement members and their families, filling the coffee house with over 100 community members eating, discussing, and participating in celebrating Kanafani’s legacy.
The event began by contextualizing Kanafani’s effects on the popularized narratives of exile and nakba in the present day, highlighting how his work has fundamentally shifted the way in which we as Palestinians conceptualize resistance, existence and return. The first segment of the program was a reading by Movement members of excerpts from Kanafani’s “Returning to Haifa” in both its original Arabic and an English translation, as well as readings by third place winner Voulette Hattar and anthology contributor Summer Farah.
The Bay Area chapter emphasized the necessity of political education and the active and intentional production of our own stories, by Palestinians in the diaspora and back home, embodied by Kanafani’s own cause for creative productions of resistance and the founding of the scholarship itself to provide humble funds and a space of production for young Palestinians to showcase and pursue their creative and educational endeavors. The chapter’s “Essential Reading List” was highlighted, featuring works by Kanafani such as “Men in the Sun,” “Returning to Haifa,” “All That’s Left of You,” and others such as “Salt Houses” by Hala Alyan, “Why Did You Leave the Horses Alone?” by Mahmoud Darwish, and “The Women from Tantoura” by Radwa Ashour. All of the books were available for purchase as part of the Anthology showcase.
The event concluded with an exciting announcement that the launch of the 2018 scholarship is imminent and that the Scholarship Committee are now accepting submissions, with cover art by Nidal El-Khairy.
We are confident that this is only the beginning for the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship. Submissions for the 2018 scholarship are now open until August 15, 2018. Please circulate the call for submissions to those who fit the entry criteria and cultural institutions!
This year’s judging panel includes Nadia Barhoum, Dina Omar, Omar Zahzah and Leila Abdelrazaq as returning judges, in addition to Farah Kader (who won first place in last year’s scholarship) and Steven Salaita as premier judges. It is not only the considerable talent of our contributors, judges and chapters that contributes to our surety of the project’s continuation, however; we enter the third year of the anthology in the wake of the Great Return March in Gaza and worldwide, a series of demonstrations that challenged the rest of the world to contend with the non-negotiability of the Palestinian right to return, as well as how the nakba is not a single event in time but an ongoing process of ethnic cleansing and dispossession. Our struggle, then, is not made up of a series of disconnected spectacles and fragments–it is one constantly unfolding narrative of violence and dispossession but, also, and most importantly, resistance.
We will continue this project for many years to come because we must. Because, ours is a story that needs constant telling, even as the ending is clear– and that is liberation. Kanafani may no longer be with us in the flesh but his unshakeable dedication to revolution and his example of how art can service the liberation struggle continue to chart the way forward.
We will return. Palestine will be free.