Palestinian Literary Criticism in Ghassan Kanafani’s "On Zionist Literature"
literary criticism
Ghassan Kanafani
historical materialism
nineteenth century
popular cradle
resistance literature
Arthur Koestler
Mu'in Bseiso
Abdul-Wahab Kayyali
Edward Said

In Fi al-adab al-sahyuni (On Zionist Literature, 1967), the Palestinian writer and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) spokesperson Ghassan Kanafani provides an analysis of Zionist literary production from the early nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, situating it in a broader schema of Western imperialism, settler colonialism, and dispossession in Palestine. Through a treatment of the early Zionist texts, Kanafani’s study traces the evolution of literary representations of the Jewish subject and explores their utility in repudiating integration and advancing racial supremacist logics. The Zionist works in question venerate different relationships to land—extractive, romantic, fraudulent—in contrast to those of Palestinian literary and oral traditions; the former are connected to the ongoing, material efforts of colonizing Palestine. Kanafani’s study was drafted in Beirut and is a reflection of the broader sweep of Arab nationalist and anti-colonial cultural production during the 1960s and 1970s, which was targeted by an anti-communist West. These experiences were formative for Kanafani’s intellectual project, which sees literary criticism as a revolutionary tool and a direct extension of armed resistance, whereby a cultural reconstitution can be used in service of liberating both Palestinian land and people. Kanafani’s study suggests that the “weapons” of literary production will be most effectively brandished by the Arab youth who lead the struggle against Zionism.

Author biography: 

Kaleem Hawa is a Palestinian writer. He has written about art, film, and literature for the New York Review of BooksThe Nation, and Artforum, among others. He most recently published an essay on Palestinian histories of “Tel Aviv” in The White Review.