Kanafani's first novel, Men in the Sun, appeared in 1963. The book was adapted by the Egyptian director Tawfiq Salim into a film, called al-Makhduun. The film was banned in some Arab countries for its criticism of Arab regimes.

Men in the Sun is the story of three Palestinians who attempt to emigrate to Kuwait in the tank of a water truck. The characters represent three different generations. They perish in their journey across the desert, suggesting the end of the Palestinian people. While the refugees are dying under the heat of the sun, they knock continuously on the wall of the tank, crying, "We are here, we are dying, let us out, let us free."

Men in the Sun is emblematic of a period when, for all the empty rhetoric of Arab leaders, thanks to the indifference of the rest of the world little was done to ameliorate the situation of the exiled Palestinian. That situation is captured here with superb artistry.  Living in exile himself, Kanafani was able to seize every emotion expressed by his protagonists and so speak on behalf of the Palestinian people. This novel was his way of depicting the terrible reality of Palestinian suffering and tragedy.