Remembering Ghassan Kanafani through the watch and the Volkswagen

Palestinian writer and activist, Ghassan Kanafani. (Photo: Archive)
Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Forty two years have passed since the martyrdom of the writer and militant Ghassan Kanafani by the Mossad in Beirut. But the author of Men in the Sun transcends time as the spiritual essence of our positive anxiety. He is here as a masked boy in the streets of Nazareth, in his portrait over the gate of Akka, ringing the clock’s bell with the fists of men marching on Palestine’s time.
Every time you look at the clock, it is not necessarily to know the time. Sometimes, it is an attempt to sense what is happening around you. It signifies the calculation of the usefulness of time through an obvious question: Who benefits from the passage of time? Once, Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972) became more present by the sound of death. It was 11 am on the morning of Saturday July 8, 1972 , as indicated by the watch on what remained of the hand of a young woman called Lamis Najm laying on a rooftop in Hazmieh.
But the clock on the wall seemed as if it were still ticking at that time. He was determined to be the hero once depicted in All That’s Left to You and the pendulum walking with the casket at the funeral. The clock continued to symbolize the acrimony of time and its elusiveness. “Time cannot be against us both, equally. They might be closer to you than I think, but closer to me than they think,” said the hero of that novel. Time could be on the side of Palestinians as long as they resist, not knowing death and never getting tired of life.
He rings the clock’s bell, with the fists of men who walk in the time of Palestine, the living archetypes of creativity and revolution. They may be forced to leave, but are the most present in its endless time. They are the image, spirit, and truth of Palestine, without deception or illusion. You know that time will never go backwards, yet it might race forward.
He is there next to a burning tire at the gates of Shafaat camp, as a masked boy in the streets of Nazareth, as burning rage in Baqa al-Gharbiyye, or a picture of Ghassan Kanafani above the wall of Akka, listening to its fearless uproar and scattering as a mosaic on the children of the camps.
All periods failed to extract him from his Palestinian time. Kanafani’s time erupts every time to knock on the wall of helplessness without hesitation, to curse Abu al-Khaizaran and promise the dawning of real men, the generation of revolutionary upheaval, affording them the creative anxiety, which refuses to falsify time or appropriate righteousness. A giant alarm clock chiming like the conscience of an organic intellectual, who remained in the moment and did not leave. He marched ahead, as the spiritual essence of our positive anxiety and the sentimental embodiment of our dreams, when the murderer committed his preemptive crime to stop the advance of the good times and assassinate, in cold blood, a different future, fearing a new tomorrow before it was born.
Many sands of time passed. Humans are no longer divided between spectators and fighters. Watching has become a paid profession in international funds, to turn the cause of the fight into something which is not noble, the probability of struggle without avail or the absurd passage into the stage of impracticality. This is how critical time operates, so you would not be a trivial spectator, but a real and decisive presence, a fighter and a resistor.
“Dearest: You are rising now, while we start to fall. Our role is almost complete. The role of this generation was the shortest for any generation in history. We live in crucial times for the history of humanity and people are divided between participants and spectators. But the spectators will not live their entire generation or drink it all. The participant, however, will quickly fall. The battle is harsh and human capacity cannot tolerate this much. I, young one, chose not to be a spectator. It means that I chose to live the crucial moments of our history, no matter how short,” Kanafani wrote in a letter to his niece Lamis Najim.
The damned Volkswagen explosion echoes pain and bitterness, each time we hear of an incident of obscurantism putting out a candle or violating culture, in its collective and national heritage. Maybe this is what made the late [Palestinian Arab writer and intellectual] Dr. Anis Sayigh envious; Kanafani was happier than all of us. He left before seeing the reality of defeat. “The Volkswagen explosion liberated you from this world. It took you away from the tragedy we live and hid the flaws of the present, its crimes, and defeats. You closed your eyes on a beautiful picture of struggle, faith, revolution, and values.”
Ghassan’s eyes were not meant to see the latest scandals in politics, the lowered expectations, the deformation of the cause, and what the adulterers did. The deterioration of everything, led to this void and terrifying impotence, which toppled the national values and major aims in which he believed wholeheartedly. The Volkswagen explosion was an example of allowing fools to steer the ship and after them the deluge, as long as they remain in power. They let the homelands drown in symbols, slogans, and rituals evoking the war of Dahis and al-Ghabra. They allowed backwardness to conquer progress and the triumph of confessional, tribal, and ethnic factionalism over what remained of the living fabric of our society.
The clock is the challenge of the new age. The emancipatory project cannot rise without leaders of political thought, a cultured mind, and the beauty of revolutionary creativity. We need leaders to fill the vacuum in the face of ruin. This is at a time when tribal instincts reign supreme, crushing the spirit of national culture, as a necessary precursor to spread the plague of ignorance and letting the takfiri wave sprout idols, not leaders, looking for their lost paradise in the strife stamped by the new caliph, under “Shlomo’s” orders and the commandments of the swordsman, who cuts down the head of justice by the fatwas of petrodollar sultans.
Kanafani was not silenced by the explosives in the Volkswagen. He was an intellectual who believed that remaining silent about the transgression against a single person’s dignity is akin to the violation of all humanity. Those who give up a part of their rights do not deserve the other part. Their presence in the smallest corner of the homeland will not be secure as long as the biggest part suffers from a terminal disease. This difference will remain distinctively patriotic, between the duty of resisting occupation as part of the battle, the duty of spectators who watch as if it was a football game, and that of negative spectators who serve the occupation under the title of “security coordination” or even the lack of ability to defend themselves.
The following is just an anecdote. During the Mongol invasion of Baghdad and the end of the Abbasid Era, the swordsman began to cut down heads. Getting tired at the end of the day, he would tell those waiting in line to go home and come back tomorrow to continue. As if in a trance, people would come back the next day to get their heads chopped without the smallest resistance. The human disposition to rebel inside them was already dead. Time, which transcends the moment, knew what it meant to detach Palestinians as humans from being active to achieve the legitimacy of survival and build a national self.
Ghassan Kanafani captured the Palestinian tragedy in its grief and joy. He kept longing for the men and the guns, because resistance is not an end on its own or a mere option. It is a cry for the rays of joy to shine again around the world and for a revolution of hope, an olive season, and a return to the land of sorrowful oranges. The clock will not stop. The time of revolution continues with the children playing a game of “fidayeen and occupiers” on their besieged beach. Ghassan remains in a camp at home over there, looking for a home, and one here in the diaspora, fleeing to a new diaspora and does not knock at the sea.
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Some of what he said:
The question of death is not a question of the dead at all; it is a question for those who remain.
Treason is in itself a wretched death.
To die with my gun in my hand and not to live with my gun in my enemy’s hand.
All the worth of my words were an impudent and silly compensation for the absence of weapons… They now tumble against the dawning of real men who die every day for everything I respect.
If we are failed defenders of the cause, it is better to change the defenders, not to change the cause.
In the clarity of the masses’ vision, revolution is an integral part of water, bread, toiling hands, and heartbeats.
He will remain implanted here
Pulsing alone in the wilderness…
Until he dies standing
We might not be generation prepared for success, but we are preparing the next one for victory.
Marwan Abdel-Al is a Palestinian novelist and politician
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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