“I won’t follow you:” Movements of Resistance in Ghassan Kanafani’s “Letter to Gaza” and Edward Said’s “Tribute to Abu Omar”

By Omar Zahzah
Submitted to Session P4946 (Articulations of Struggle in Transnational Palestinian Resistance Circuits, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
It is impossible to speak of “Palestinian resistance” without confronting the colonial-political ontology that structures Palestinian subjectivity, or appreciating how this ontology, far from maintaining a static coherence, is contingent, modulated by strictures that are overlapping, at times contradictory, and serve to inform as well as delimit the ever-shifting potentiality for Palestinian being and resistance both within and without Palestine’s continuously contested borders. This presentation utilizes a comparative reading of two Palestinian texts, Ghassan Kanafani’s “Letter from Gaza” and Edward Said’s “Tribute to Abu Omar,” as the point of entry to a larger meditation on these concerns.

Taken collectively, the three figures in question—Kanafani’s nameless narrator, Edward Said, and Abu Omar (formerly Hannah Mikhail)—constitute a kind of triangulation of the possibilities and restrictions of Palestinian mobility: Said, the exile who eventually came to the US; Kanafani’s narrator, who refuses a scholarship to the University of California in order remain in Gaza; and Abu Omar, who turns his back on a promising academic career in the US in order to join a resistance movement in exile (first in Jordan, then Lebanon). Symptomatic of the paradoxical register of Palestinian political life, the respective nodes of this comparison’s tripartite formation are not discrete, but inform one another in a series of relays. On this note, the significance of Said writing his dedication in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, which drew a sharp delineation between Palestinians inside and outside the borders of a would-be Palestinian state, cannot be emphasized enough.

Finally, while the term “resistance” assumes an immediate, militant dimension in regards to Palestine (as with any other anti-colonial struggle), and though this dimension constitutes a significant component of both texts, I argue that Kanafani and Said’s pieces enact a productive complication of the meaning and possibility of “resistance” through a reversal of scale. When the physical and epistemic violence of the colonial project overdetermines the quotidian, resistance inhabits even the smallest moments of refusal, and individual instances of sacrifice take on the profoundest significance.