Model Role Details

Ghassan Kanafani

Ghassan Kanafani

Sector : Cultural Figures , Writers

Personal Info

  • Country of residence : Lebanon
  • Gender : Male
  • Born in : 1936
  • Age : 81
  • Curriculum vitae :


Ghassan Kanafani "born in 8 April 1936 in Akka, Palestine – 8 July 1972 in Beirut, Lebanon"was a Palestinian author and a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). On 8 July 1972 he was assassinated by Mossad.

Ghassan Fayiz Kanafani was born in 1936 into a middle-class Palestinian Christian family in the city of Acre (Akka) under the British Mandate of Palestine. He was the third child of Muhammad Fayiz Abd al Razzag, a lawyer, who was active in the national movement that opposed the British occupation, with its encouragement of Jewish immigration, and who had been imprisoned on several occasions by the British when Ghassan was still a child. Ghassan received his early education in a French Catholic missionary school in Jaffa.

In May, when the outbreak of hostilities in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War spilled over into Acre, Kanafani and his family were forced into exile, joining the Palestinian exodus. In a letter to his own son written decades later, he recalled the intense shame he felt on observing, aged 10, the men of his family surrendering their weapons to become refugees.

After fleeing some 17 kilometres (11 mi) north to neighbouring Lebanon, they settled in Damascus, Syria as Palestinian refugees. They were relatively poor; the father set up a small lawyer's practice, with the family income being supplemented by the boys' part-time work. There, Kanafani completed his secondary education, receiving a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) teaching certificate in 1952. He was first employed as an art teacher for some 1,200 displaced Palestinian children in a refugee camp, where he began to writing short stories in order to help his students contextualize their situation.

Political background

 In 1952 he also enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus. The following year he met Dr. George Habash, who introduced him to politics, and was to exercise an important influence on his early work. In 1955, before he could complete his degree, with a thesis on "Race and Religion in Zionist Literature", which was to form the basis for his 1967 study On Zionist Literature, Kanafani was expelled from the university for his political affiliations with the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN) to which Habash had recruited him. Kanafani moved to Kuwait in 1956, following his sister Fayzah Kanafani and brother who had preceded him there, to take up a teaching position. He spent much of his free time absorbed in Russian literature. In the following year he became editor of Jordanian Al Ra'i (The Opinion), which was an MAN-affiliated newspaper.

In 1960, he relocated again, this time to Beirut, on the advice of Habash, where he began editing the MAN mouthpiece al-Hurriya and took up an interest in Marxistphilosophy and politics.

In 1961, he met Anni Høver, a Danish educationalist and children's rights activist, with whom he had two children. In 1962, Kanafani was forced to briefly go underground, since he, as a stateless person, lacked proper identification papers. He reappeared in Beirut later the same year, and took up editingship of the Nasserist newspaper Al Muharrir (The Liberator), editing its weekly supplement "Filastin" (Palestine).

He went on to become an editor of another Nasserist newspaper, Al Anwar (The Illumination), in 1967, writing essays under the pseudonym of Faris Faris.

In the same year he also joined The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and, in 1969, resigned from Al-Anwar to edit the PFLP's weekly magazine al-Hadaf. ("The Target"), while drafting a PFLP program in which the movement officially took up Marxism-Leninism. This marked a turn away from pan-Arab nationalism towards revolutionary Palestinian struggle.

At the time of his assassination he held extensive contacts with foreign journalists and many Scandinavian anti-Zionist Jews.

His political writings and journalism are thought to have made a major impact on Arab thought and strategy at the time.

Literary output

Though prominent as a political thinker, militant, and journalist, Kanafani is on record as stating that literature was the shaping spirit behind his politics. Kanafani's literary style has been described as "lucid and straightforward"; his modernist narrative technnique—using flashback effects and a wide range of narrative voices—represents a distinct advance in Arabic fiction.

Ihab Shalback and Faisal Darraj sees a trajectory in Kanafani's writings from the simplistic dualism depicting an evil Zionist aggressor to a good Palestinian victim, to a moral affirmation of the justness of the Palestinian cause where however good and evil are not absolutes, until, dissatisfied by both, he began to appreciate that self-knowledge required understanding of the Other, and that only by unifying both distinct narratives could one grasp the deeper dynamics of the conflict.

In many of his fictions he portrays the complex dilemmas Palestinians of various backgrounds must face. Kanafani was the first to deploy the notion of resistance literature ("adab al-muqawama") with regard to Palestinian writing; in two works, published respectively in 1966 and 1968, one critic, Orit Bashkin, has noted that his novels repeat a certain fetishistic worship of arms, and that he appears to depict military means as the only way to resolve the Palestinian tragedy.

Ghassan Kanafani began writing short stories when he was working in the refugee camps. Often told as seen through the eyes of children, the stories manifested out of his political views and belief that his students' education had to relate to their immediate surroundings. While in Kuwait, he spent much time reading Russian literature and socialist theory, refining many of the short stories he wrote, winning a Kuwaiti prize.


On 8 July 1972, Kanafani, age 36 at the time, was assassinated in Beirut when he turned on the ignition of his Austin 1100, detonating a grenade which in turn detonated a 3 kilo plastic bomb planted behind the bumper bar. Kanafani was incinerated, together with his seventeen-year-old niece Lamees Najim. Mossad eventually claimed responsibility.

The assassination was undertaken in response to the Lod airport massacre, which was carried out by three members of the Japanese Red Army. At the time, Kanafani was the spokesperson of the PFLP, and the group claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Mark Ensalaco, Kanafani had justified tactics used by the attackers in July.

Kameel Nasr states that Kanafani, together with his deputy, Bassam Abu Sharif, had demanded in press conferences dealing with Palestinian hijackings common at the time, that Israel release prisoners; however, Nasr states, Kanafani and Abu Sharif had mellowed and had started speaking against indiscriminate violence. Several days after the Lod massacre, a picture of Kanafani together with one of the Japanese terrorists was circulated. Rumours circulated suggesting Lebanese Security forces had been complicit.

Bassam Abu Sharif, who survived an attempt on his life two weeks later, suspected that the attempts on Kanafani and later himself were ordered by Israel but had employed an Arab intermediary, perhaps Abu Ahmed Yunis; Yunis was executed by the PFLP in 1981.

Kanafani's obituary in Lebanon's The Daily Star wrote that: "He was a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages."

On his death, several uncompleted novels were found among his Nachlass, one dating back as early as 1966.


Achievements and Awards

  • The same year he enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus and began teaching in UNRWA schools in the refugee camps. Before he could complete his degree, Kanafani was expelled from the university and exiled to Kuwait for his political affiliations - a result of his involvement in the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), a left-wing pan-Arab organization to which he had been recruited by Dr. George Habash when the two met in 1953. Some biographers, however, do not believe Kanafani was ever expelled, but simply moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher and became more politically active. In Kuwait he edited al-Ra'i (The Opinion), which was an ANM-affiliated newspaper, and also became interested in Marxist philosophy and politics.
  • In 1960, he relocated once again to Beirut, where he began editing the ANM mouthpiece al-Hurriya. In 1961, he met Anni Høver, a Danish children's rights activist, with whom he had two children. In 1962, Kanafani briefly had to go underground, since he, as a stateless person, lacked proper identification papers. He reappeared in Beirut later the same year, and took up editingship of the Nasserist newspaper al-Muharrir (The Liberator). He went on to become an editor of another Nasserist newspaper, al-Anwar (The Illumination), in 1967.

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