In remembrance of Kanafani's 'Sad Oranges'
Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated by Mossad in 1972 when he was 36 years old. We remember him through his story 'Sad Oranges'.
It is 47 years since Mossad killed Kanafani, a Palestinian fighter, and popular Arab writer. One of his earliest stories is 'Alifi'.
Ghassan Kanafani would have been 83 years old if he were alive now. But on July 8, 1972, he was blown to pieces in the bombing by the Israeli spy organization Mossad in Beirut. He was 36 years old. He was a Palestinian fighter and an Arab writer who wrote novels and stories that greatly influenced people. Mossad placed explosives in Kanafani's car and destroyed the genius.
Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972) (seated, left), spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, speaks at a press conference at party headquarters in Amman, Jordan on September 15th 1970. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
This writer, born in Akka, Galilee, in Palestine, had to flee the soil he was born into at the age of 12. Later he lived in Damascus, Kuwait, and Beirut. When Kanafani died, Mahmoud Darwish wrote a song of mourning. Darwish then also shared with his people his apprehension that henceforth we will have to perpetually come up with songs of mourning.
Kanafani's forty-seventh death anniversary passed by on July 8. Here is a translation of one of his stories. This short story, 'The Land of Mourning Oranges', is widely read in the Arab world. In this story, one of his earliest works, Kanafani mixes reality, history, and imagination. The story is about the blood and tears of tens of thousands of Palestinian families who fled the Israeli occupation in 1948.
Land of mourning oranges
Moving from Jaffa to Akka, I was not worried. It felt like moving from one city to another during the holidays. Nothing painful happened for days. In fact, I was thrilled because I didn't have to go to school. But all those nice feelings came to an abrupt end. Things changed when Akka came under attack. That night was hard on me and you. The women were praying, the men sighed and retreated into stilled silence. I and you and children our age did not understand what was happening. That same night we started tying the knot of stories. As soon as Israeli soldiers, frightening and cursing us, left, a large van came and stopped in front of the house where we lived. Blankets, beds, and pillows were thrown into it. I was leaning on the wall of that old house. I saw your mother being boarded into the van. After that, your aunt, and then the children, one by one, got into the van. Your father flung you on top of the furniture piled up in the van. Your father lifted me high over his head and placed me over a huge iron box in the van. My brother Riyadh was seated silently in the van. Before I could really sit down, the van moved forward. The views of Akka disappeared. The van sped towards Ras Al Nakhura (Lebanon).
The atmosphere was almost cloudy. Fever was creeping into my body. Riyadh folded his legs on top of the box and sat quietly, occasionally trying to see the sky. I too sat silent. Along the way, we could see the orange gardens. Fear and eagerness gripped everyone. The van was moving on the road slippery with dirt. Occasionally we could hear gunshots as if bidding us farewell.
When Ras Al Nakhura was visible from a distance the van stopped at a point. The women came out carrying their goods in their hands and surrounded the farmer who was selling oranges a short distance away. The women took oranges, and the farmer was considerate with them. At that moment I realized that oranges are priceless. Those large, beautiful oranges seemed to interact with the heart. The women came back to the vehicle with the oranges. Your father shifted next to the driver's seat, reached out and took an orange from somebody and sat looking at it for some time. Then he began crying like a child.
The van we were travelling in stopped at Ras Al Nakhoura between several vehicles. The men began to give away their guns to the police standing there. The police were there to buy the guns. By the time it was our turn, the table in front of the policemen was full of handguns and automatic guns. From there I saw a long line of vehicles waiting to go to Lebanon. We were abandoning the country of oranges and heading for another country. I started bawling aloud. Your mother was silently watching the oranges. Your father’s eyes flared with the colour of all the orange trees abandoned for Israel. Each orange plant he planted in a neat and orderly manner was glowing on his face. Even when confronting the chief police officer at that checkpoint, your father could not contain the tears flowing from his eyes.
We arrived at Saidah that hot afternoon. There we became refugees.
The road which has borne many persons and many things took us on too. Your father suddenly grew old. He looked like a man who hadn't slept in a long time. He was in the middle of the stuff unloaded from the van on to the road. I was sure he would explode and call my father names if I said anything. Those curses were already taking shape on his face and in his looks. We, now refugees, were sitting hunched on the road. No one was going to come to solve the problems of the refugees. Their problems must be solved by themselves; everything including putting a roof over their heads. Pain began to spread through my head.
The night was terrible. When the darkness gradually settled into the night, I was scared. It was clear that we had to sleep on the road that night. Frightful dreams took hold of my being. There was nobody there to comfort me. I couldn't find anyone there who could. Your father’s fierce silence deepened the fear in my heart, and the orange in your mother’s hand flamed the fire in my chest. Everyone kept completely silent. Everyone kept looking up the road thinking somebody would come, our problems would be solved, we would find ourselves accommodated in some hut. Then our destiny came. Your uncle. He had arrived in the area two days earlier. He was our destiny.
Your uncle was unrepentant. His wickedness was evident on his face even when we saw him on the road. He went to a house where a Jewish family lived and bellowed, take all your belongings and go to Palestine. Of course, they wouldn't go to Palestine. Your uncle just wanted to show his anger and rage in front of them. The family evacuated a room in the house for us. Your uncle led us all there. His family was also in that room. We lay on the floor of the room.
We didn't stay in Saida for long. There was no room in your uncle's room for even half of us to stay. We stayed there for three days. Your mother asked your father to find a job, and if not, to return the orange. With that, your father exploded. His voice trembled with anger. With that, the family problem began. There, by the orange orchard, amidst the graves of martyrs, problems reared their head in a tightly knit family.
I don't know where your father got all the money. I know he had sold all of your mother's jewellery. He once bought the jewellery to make your mother proud. But it is certain that all the money cannot be put together just by selling the jewellery. Could he have borrowed money from somebody else? Could he have sold his property without any of our knowing? I do not know. But I saw him laughing, for the first time, sitting on a rock on the outskirts of Saida. Your father was waiting for the army to return triumphant on May 15th.
After several hard days, May 15 came. At exactly 12 o'clock at night, he kicked me awake.
Get up, open your eyes, sit up and get ready to watch the Arab army entering Palestine. His tone was full of hope. In the middle of the night, we ran through the darkened hillsides, ran until we reached the road. The road was a good distance from the village. Kids, young and old, were all running to the road, like fools.
The van travelled towards Ras Al Nakhura. Cars and armoured vehicles could be seen coming from a distance. By the time we reached the main road, we were cold and trembling. Teeth chattered. But your father's excited shout made us forget all this. He ran like a little boy to the cars near us, roaring in a broken voice. We repeated what he was saying and followed suit. Some soldiers wearing helmets, certainly looking as if deserving adulation, were looking at us. We ran out of breath, choked, but to the astonishment of all, forgetting that he was 50 years old, your father ran swiftly. He threw cigarettes at the soldiers and continued to run. Like lambs in a flock, we followed your father.
The procession of cars and armoured vehicles came to an abrupt halt. We were tired and returned home. Your father said nothing and sank into complete silence. When the light from the headlight of a car fell on his face, we could see rivulets of tears flowing.
After that day, life went by. We were fooled by announcements. We stood dazed before the brutal truth. Darkness began to spread on faces. Your father didn't say anything about Palestine anymore. He never again even recalled the happy days near the orange orchards, nor his homes. We were left to face that disaster. We experienced that problem firsthand. He woke us all up in the morning and screamed: Go up the hill, and no one should come back before noon. That was so that we would not ask about breakfast.
Things got worse and worse. He began to get uncontainably enraged over even the simplest of problems. I remember, when one of the kids asked something, he jumped up as if shocked, and then began to stare at everyone. Suddenly, something would light up in his mind. As if he had found a resolution to some confusion. As if the problems had been resolved as if there had been a final solution to everything. As if the clouds had disappeared and the sky was clear… he began to talk nonsense, and then started searching for something; he suddenly jumped on top of the box we brought from Akka, and like one possessed by epilepsy began to throw its contents outside. I don’t know whether your mother foresaw what he was going to do, but she told us children to go run up the hill. But we stayed by the window outside, our ears attached to it. And he was saying as if possessed by the demon: I will kill them, I will kill myself too, I will kill…I must kill them…
We stood there peering through the gap in the door. Your father started to beat his head on the floor. Drawing his breath deeply, gnashing his teeth ... Your mother stood there slightly away, staring at what was happening with a frightened face.
At first, I didn't understand what was going on. When I saw the black pistol lying beside him fear gripped my mind. I ran towards the hill. I ran up the hill hoping to escape home. It seemed to me as if the distance I put between myself and home was the distance I moved away from my childhood. I was sure life would never be like it was in the old days again. It will never be simple. It will never be like before. Life had already become something not to be eagerly looked forward to. It came to putting a bullet into the head – a father’s situation when he has nothing else to offer his children. That is, we must find our own way from now on. No one will tell us how to behave. Like, when father is speaking about problems you must sit quietly. You must not ask for food, no matter how hungry. When you are asked to run up the hill and not return till afternoon you should smile, nod your head, and obey.
In the evening, when darkness was spreading in the house, your father was in the house trembling with fever. Mother was right beside him. Our eyes glowed like cats’ eyes in the dark. Our mouths were sealed, and our lips were like stitches of old wounds.
We piled on here, completely withdrawn from our childhood, far from the land of oranges. An elderly cultivator used to tell us: orange trees would keep dying if strangers watered them.
Your father is still sick and bedridden. Your mother's tears haven't dried since then. I used to creep into that room occasionally like one who had been banished. Your father’s face would wrinkle with anger... the black pistol would still be lying in the bottom drawer of the desk… and next to it, an orange... a scarred, withered, dried up orange.