Maha Nassar


On her book Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World

Cover Interview of March 11, 2018

A close-up

In the fourth chapter, “Palestinian Spokesmen,” I discuss little-known dimensions of two famous Palestinian writers: Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani. While Darwish is best known for his poetry and Kanafani is best known for his novels, I analyze their journalistic essays from the early 1960s to mid-1960s instead. In doing so, I show that they were part of a generational cohort that was instrumental in the shift toward an intellectually grounded Palestinian national liberation project.

For example, I discuss previously unknown essays by a young Darwish in which he insisted that a writer must be engaged with decolonization projects at home and abroad to be of any relevance in the world. These essays, along with his on-the-ground political activism, put into context his early poetry, including his most famous poem, “Identity Card.”

Kanafani, who was exiled from Palestine in 1948 and lived in Beirut, was a champion of the Palestinian literary figures in Israel at a time when no one else had even heard of them. He published an essay about them in the prestigious, Beirut-based cultural journal, al-Adab, in 1966. While Kanafani’s appraisal of them would not get traction among other Arab intellectuals until after the 1967 War, his early work shows the determination of Palestinian intellectuals in exile to bring Palestinians together through literature since they could not physically meet each other.

This chapter demonstrates the centrality of texts in the organic development of Palestinian nationalism among intellectuals who span across different geographic locations. It also highlights the ways in which these intellectuals were deeply involved in politics, activism and political organizing, providing a vivid example of what Antonio Gramsci referred to as “organic intellectuals.”