Kanafani, Deborah

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Kanafani, Deborah


Married Marwan Kanafani (a Palestinian diplomat; divorced); children: one son, one daughter. Education: Holds a master's degree.


Home—New York, NY, and Los Angeles, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, television and film producer, administrator, media expert, and consultant. Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, director of international productions. Women in Film and Video, Washington, DC, executive director. Oxygen Media, consultant. Organized and ran conflict resolution programs between Palestinians and Israelis. Member of board of directors of Just Vision. Serves on the board of directors of several Israeli-Palestinian peace programs.


Unveiled: How an American Woman Found Her Way through Politics, Love, and Obedience in the Middle East (memoir), Free Press (New York, NY), 2008.


Deborah Kanafani is a writer, television and film producer, and media consultant. An American, Kanafani spent much of her career working for the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, where she was director of international programming. A television writer and producer, she created programs on children's and women's rights for a variety of organizations, including the UNDP, UNICEF, and the governments of several European countries, noted a biographer on the author's home page. Kanafani has also served in a more direct role in the ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, acting as a facilitator of conflict resolution programs during her years in the Middle East. She is also a member of the board of directors of a number of Palestinian-Israeli peace organizations. In the United States, she has continued to pursue a career in the media, working as executive director of Women in Film and Video in Washington, DC, and as a consultant for Oxygen Media.

At age twenty-six, Kanafani met her future husband, Marwan Kanafani, a prominent member of the Palestinian government and director of the Arab League in New York. What started as an exciting whirlwind romance ultimately became a wife and mother's nightmare, mired in the strict social and political culture of the Middle East. Kanafani recounts her story in Unveiled: How an American Woman Found Her Way through Politics, Love, and Obedience in the Middle East.

In the book, Kanafani describes her initial meeting with the handsome and charming Marwan, a former soccer star with many political and diplomatic connections in the Middle East and Palestine. Soon, the two were married and had two children, a son and a daughter. Marwan's political fortunes continued to rise as he became the senior advisor and chief spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. However, as time went on, their marriage steadily deteriorated as Marwan was called upon to travel more and spend more time in the Middle East. Finally, Kanafani asked her husband for a divorce. He agreed to the divorce, but his resentment grew. "I didn't realize how humiliating that is for an Arab man," Kanafani told interviewer Kate Fillion in Maclean's. "I didn't realize until I lived in the West Bank that women aren't even allowed to divorce their husbands, only the men are allowed to ask for a divorce."

Kanafani also did not anticipate at the time the consequences her actions would later have for her family. After sending her children to visit Marwan in Ramallah, he refused to let them return to her, invoking Islamic law to seize custody of them and keep them with him in the West Bank. Horrified by these events, cut off from financial support, and heartbroken at the loss of her children, Kanafani refused to submit to a law that she didn't believe in. She moved to the West Bank in order to be as close to her children as possible. She did all that she could to remain a presence in her children's lives, all the while hoping for a way to reunite with them and get them back to the United States. Throughout her ordeal, Kanafani met and befriended many strong and influential Middle Eastern women, among them Queen Dina of Jordan and Suha Arafat, wife of Yasser Arafat. She discovered that many other women had been the victim of draconian Islamic laws. With the stormy backdrop of Arab and Israeli politics looming behind her every move, Kanafani struggled against her dilemma until violence and the Intifadah of 2000 provided her with the opportunity she'd been desperately seeking.

Bookreporter.com reviewer Judy Gigstad called Unveiled the "poignant story of a woman who transcends the traditional Palestinian customs that threaten her stability as wife and mother." A Publishers Weekly critic commented that Kanafani's stories of "Palestinian politics, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and Arab women bucking tradition to struggle for social justice are captivating."



Unveiled: How an American Woman Found Her Way through Politics, Love, and Obedience in the Middle East, Free Press (New York, NY), 2008.


Booklist, December 1, 2007, Katherine Boyle, review of Unveiled, p. 11.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2007, review of Unveiled.

Maclean's, January 28, 2008, "American Deborah Kanafani Talks to Kate Fillion about Marrying a PLO Leader, Divorcing Him—and How She Got Her Kids Back," interview with Deborah Kanafani, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2007, review of Unveiled, p. 49.


Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (August 11, 2008), Judy Gigstad, review of Unveiled.

Deborah Kanafani Home Page,http://www.deborahkanafani.com (August 11, 2008).

GW Hatchet,http://www.gwhatchet.com/ (January 28, 2008), Noura Ismail, "Author Chides Arab Men," profile of Deborah Kanafani.

Just Vision Web site,http://www.justvision.org/ (August 11, 2008), biography of Deborah Kanafani.

Simon & Schuster Web site,http://www.simonsays.com/ (August 11, 2008), biography of Deborah Kanafani.

Women's Media Center Web site,http://www.womensmediacenter.com/ (March 20, 2008), Regina Cornwell, "Deborah Kanafani: Invisibility Unveiled," author profile.