Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: Palestine by Joe Sacco

Palestine by Joe Sacco

In 1991 and 1992, Joe Sacco spent two months in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip gathering stories from the Palestinians living there. He met hundreds of people and visited camps, prisons, schools, homes, markets, etc., documenting the conditions he found and the stories he heard. He returned to America where he published a nine-issue series of comics telling the tales he'd gathered from the Palestinians living under Israel's government. This book has the entire collection in a single volume.

The book is not an easy read. The people's descriptions of their hardships, including incarceration and abuse from Israeli soldiers, is shocking and depressing. He meets with a group of men, one of whom is ashamed because he'd never been arrested or imprisoned just for being a male Palestinian, like the other eight men in the room. A mother describes how her son was shot in the head and died forty hours later because the ambulance could not get him to a hospital where he would be admitted and treated. It makes a very grim picture that is not seen in most Western media. Only the riots and the terrorism (which certainly happen and assuredly are wrong) get time on news shows. People organizing schools and activities for their children while in a relocation camp; providing hospitality to their guests like all civilized people do; quickly celebrating an upcoming wedding before the curfew starts; all the things normal people would do under such circumstances isn't noteworthy to the media but shows the humanity of an oppressed people.

The book does present one side of the story, but it is well recorded and mostly unheard in the English-speaking world. Sacco explains the history from 1948 to the present and fills in the details by talking to young and old alike. The book is a striking testament to the resiliency of the Palestinian people and the the unsure future that they face. The final few pages show Sacco's bus ride to the airport. The bus gets lost as it tries to avoid dangerous areas on its way to the Egyptian border. They get directions several times but still can't find the right way forward. It's a great summary of the frustration and seeming futility of the Palestinian/Israeli situation.

Some Sample Pages:

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