Book Review: Palestine by Joe Sacco
Words by Chantelle Salkeld
Palestine by Joe Sacco is no ordinary comic book. We usually associate this medium with stories of fantasy, capes and bright costumes,
something to be read light-heartedly. Instead, Sacco portrays the harsh truths of his two-month experience in Palestine during 1991-2, via many heartfelt images and captions.
With a degree in journalism and a deep interest in comics, it is not at all surprising that this is the way he chooses to illustrate his own, and other people’s, experiences. This is a sort of travel log, filled with daunting topics. Images and stories have been drawn up from memory, photographs by him and Saburo (a Japanese man he met in Palestine) and over a hundred interviews with the Palestinians and Israelis.
Through this, he is able to witness and show how the Arab-Israeli conflict affects individuals, families, and the civilian population. Individual stories are vital for us to empathise with them, so we can see them on a “human level”, Sacco explains. The Palestinians want regular, uninterrupted lives; to go to school, to play football. This has been made almost impossible since 1948 when Zionists established a Jewish state in the territory, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Since that time the Jewish state has expanded to encompass virtually all land which was previously owned by Palestine. This illegal expansion of settlements has mostly been met with complacency from the international community. This has led to the Palestinian people, as told in these stories, feeling isolated from and alienated by the rest of the world.
Sacco believes this form works really well as a means of communication as it is ‘an easy ornery into a complicated subject’, it’s accessible to people who may know little about the subject. He has had many other books published in this way, including Safe Area Goražde, about the Eastern Bosnian war, and Footnotes in Gaza. For his hard work and authentic spin on comic book writing, he has received many awards, including the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel.
When Sacco first wrote Palestine it was sectioned into nine issues of a comic book series, but now, as a whole, it features an insightful introduction by Edward Said, a critic who is very interested in Palestine, being an American from a Palestinian background. In his Homage to Joe Sacco, he says Sacco portrays ‘… people whose suffering and unjust fate has been scanted for far too long and with too little humanitarian and political attention…’.
This novel underpins some of the issues purposely not displayed in mainstream media. The media is a very powerful weapon and even he admits, in Palestine, that through this he had the opinion that ‘…terrorism is the bread the Palestinians get buttered on…’ (p.7),
which he learns is completely false. Instead they feed him well and give him lots of sugary tea. However, even his novel is not objective. He thinks it is impossible, especially from a Western standpoint. It is told through his eyes and he believes that some people need more of a voice than others to make the balance, which explains why the main focus of this is on the Palestinians.
Since visiting the occupied territories, there has been a ‘Peace Process’ that has not benefitted the Palestinians and they are still deeply affected by the Jewish settlers, some of them illegal. The second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) is still happening because neither ethnic group want to be dominated by the other. Although this is told in a comic-book form, it is deeply moving and troubling to read at times, as many people are killed and injured unjustly, and soldiers invade the Palestinians’ homes and hospitals–many in refugee camps as they have been driven from their original homes.
The battle continues today.
Chantelle studies English and Creative Writing at MMU. She enjoys painting and poetry in her spare time. You can follow her on Twitter @Chantelle_L_S.