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Not So Comic

Zein El-Amine
Date Published: 
July 14, 2002

Joe Sacco
Fantagraphics Books

Nothing that I have read before has brought home to me the realities of everyday life of Palestinians as Joe Sacco’s Palestine. This 288-page comic book is a compilation of several comic books on Sacco’s experience in Palestine (the first issue was published in January 1993).

The latest edition is a two-volume graphic novel based on several months of research and an extended visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990’s. Sacco conducted over one hundred interviews with Palestinians and Jews in order to compile this work. The result is a first person journalistic account that documents, with gritty detail and dark humor, all the aspects of the occupation – killings, detentions, bureaucratic harassment, deaths squads, land confiscation and torture.

Sacco takes you on walks with him through the Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Nablus. You experience the repressive atmosphere that has been suffocating the Palestinians since 1948. He shows you how the Israeli occupation permeates every aspect of Palestinian life.

His account moves between the lush life of Jews living in Israel proper and the cramped quarters of Palestinians in the occupied territories. He goes from a cramming the reader in a crowded living room in the occupied territories, where Palestinians under curfew spend hours talking and drinking endless cups of tea, to an outdoor cafe in Jerusalem with a group of Israelis.

Viscous settlers

His conversations with Israelis expose their detachment from conditions that the Palestinians are living under and reveals the implanted reality of American Zionists. He documents the viciousness of the settlers with great detail – from terrorist attack on a Palestinian home to their harassment of an old Palestinian guide at a holy site.

Beyond that, his comic book diary is interspersed with graphic one or two-page presentations about the history of occupation, He diverts in the middle of his riveting personal account to give you historical accounts of the major milestones of the occupation. This is a very accessible way for readers who don’t know much about the history of the occupation, to learn how the occupation came about in 1948, about the Israeli-Arab wars in ‘56, ‘67, ‘73 and about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Sacco examines the realities within Palestinian society with an unflinching eye. When he explores the issue of women’s oppression, the condition of women is addressed through extensive conversations with Palestinian women who are struggling against their oppression in society and against the Israeli occupation.

Professor Naseer H. Aruri of Massachusetts University described this book well when he said, “Each page is equivalent to an essay on one of the many aspects of the occupation.”

This is an essential resource for a growing movement to free Palestine and for people considering joining the International Solidarity Movement that has been so effective in bringing Palestinian life to mainstream America. It is also a good starter book to learn about the history of the occupation of Palestine.

Sacco won the American Book Award for Palestine and has since released Safe Area Gorazde – a 240-page look at war in the former Yugoslavia.