Sunday, March 25, 2007


Not Your Kid Brother's Comic Book

The current term is graphic novels, but they're not always novels. In fact, all the books I've read in this category are memoirs: Alison Bechdel's artfully done Fun Home, Marjane Satrapi's fascinating Persepolis, Persepolis 2, and Embroideries. Bechdel plays with the idea of the artificer in Fun Home as she details her father's closeted existence as a teacher, funeral director, and house restorer in a small town and her own emergence as a lesbian and an artist. Satrapi weaves Persian miniatures into the backgrounds of her family's experiences in the Iranian revolution and draws upon the feminist themes to compelling effect.

Now I stumble into Palestine, courtesy of Joe Sacco. If the books mentioned above draw upon memoir, Sacco seems to be practicing graphic journalism rather than writing and drawing the so-called graphic novel. Call it what you will; it's stunning, important, and almost unbearable at times.

Palestine is a collection of strips written and drawn by Sacco as he crossed over into the Gaza Strip to get the Palestinian side of the story. The Israeli policies he discovers echo practices that we are not proud of in our own current history. Instead of Guantanimo, elimination of habeas corpus and probable cause, substitute Administrative Detention. There's a startling and distressing resemblance.

Aware that many if not most of his readers aren't versed in Palestinian history, Sacco travels back to what he calls "the British dust[ing] off of the promise of the Lord." The perfect spot is Palestine, dubbed "a land without people for a people without a land." This is hogwash, of course, but in 1917 Lord Balfour states, "Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land."

That's Brit-speak for there are already lots of people living here, but we don't intend to consult them.This is fine with the Zionists. As Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion prepared for war in 1948, he planned that "a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.. . Palestinian Arabs have only one role left--to flee."

Even Golda "But can she type?" Meir denied the actual existence of a Palestinian people: "It was not as though there was a Paslestinian people considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."

This is, of course, news to the Palestinians, 400 of whose villages were razed by the Israelis during and after the 1948 war. In Sacco's interviews he discovers Palestinian professionals who are routinely kidnapped by the Israeli government and placed in "administrative detention" without charges while officials go on fishing expeditions in search of substantiating the unsubstantial. Farmers talk about Israel's expropriation of land and water and labyrinthian taxation schemes to undermine the selling of Palestinian produce at home and abroad. They are forced to cut down their olive trees which are written off as a "terrorist threat." Residents describe being driven from their homes by the Israeli army, who then dub the homes "unoccupied houses and terrorist havens" before bulldozing them out of existence. Even as the government has flooded Palestinian territories with Israeli settlements and government incentives, it has continually denied building permits to Palestinians.

I can only imagine the desperation, the adamance of the first Israeli settlers, fresh from the Holocaust, to live on protected soil. But religious states strike me as a uniformly terrible idea, as do Americans and Europeans deciding Middle Eastern destinies without consulting the inhabitants. If Palestinians don't "exist," then neither do Syrians or Jordanians or Saudis.

Israelis need to revisit their own painful history, to remember what it was to be persecuted merely for existing, and then to think less about "God's" promise to them and more about the potential for sharing resources and respect.

Do check out these graphic books. They have a lot to show us.

Palestine as graphic journalism. We are in the first hundred years of a 500 year war; if Israel and the Palestinians do not make peace with each other, the entire Middle East will go up in flames. The Balfour Declaration divided up an area that gave Israel non-defensable borders (he didn't really like Jews, nor did he like any of the Arabs, either.)

And after World War 2, when the Jewish people left Europe in droves, on boats bound for the holy land, they were denied entrance by the British - they were displaced persons.

There is a strong movement in Israel for real coexistance with the Palestinians. The current administration has got to go - Olmert is as bad as Bush, really, and he has to go.

Israel and Jordan, and Israel and Egypt, have peace and trade agreements, and they are thriving. It has to happen.

Meanwhile, George Bush would be thrilled if the Middle East goes up in flames - one step closer to The Rapture. Where that leaves people like me, a Jew, is questionable.

Let us not forget that to be Jewish is more than a religion - we are considered to be a separate race, a separate nation - always have been. The State of Israel is actually quite secular - and the religious Jews who live there do not recognize Israel as a state any more than do the Palestinians (although for different reasons.)

We sit here, in our comfortable distance, and think we can understand what it is that goes on there. I lived in Israel. There has to be something in the air, or the sun, or something, but the thinking of everyone who lives in the region is not like ours. Logic and reason often don't enter the picture - passions run so high on all sides that sometimes you think the air is weeping.

I have said before, and will say again: it is useless to say that only Israel is wrong, and the Palestinians are right. It is equally useless to say only the Palestinians are wrong (I get the daily emails from relatives, believe me). At this point, unless both sides lay down weapons and talk to each other, EVERYBODY is wrong.

Pray for peace.
Well said, Jood.

I'm not sure that I see Jews so much as a race than as a culture. I don't think that Jews were a race in my anthropology studies... and the race thing can be used both for and against a people.

I pray that these folks will find their way to a win-win situation. You are certainly right that Brits and Americans don't care about anything but strategic advantage.

The Brit& US history with the Middle East is one big obscenity after another. But it is important for us to pay attention to the concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis. I didn't even know about the Holocaust till I read Leon Uris's Exodus when I was 16. What a horrible shock. School kids are better educated now; Elie Wiesel's Night is standard fare for middle and high school students. Reading up on Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust was fairly easy to do; so much has been written. But information on the Palestinians has been hard to come by.

Thanks for weighing in, Jood. I value your ideas.
The whole situation is so horribly sad, and today a situation took place in Gaza that is devastating and heart wrenching. A sewage reservoir burst sending mountains of sewage over tents and tin homes of Bedouins, killing two, injuring twenty and wiping out goat herds. The blame is being placed everywhere. Palestinians are outraged at their government for allowing it to happen. Their government is outraged at the US and Israel for cutting off humanitarian aid which they claim would have let them fix the reservoir. All I know is that people continue to die and no one is held accountable and peace will never take place between Israel and Palestine.

The little girl I posted about in Prayers for Hanan Anami was a Bedouin goat herding with her family in an area where the IDF allows Bedouins to graze their animals during certain times of the year. The IDF posts Danger signs in areas where they are practicing shooting, but failed to post a sign in this area. The little girl was shot while soldiers practiced war games.

Diva, your description of the passion without logic and the weeping air is incredible. Logic has to enter the picture for all of the weeping to stop. Olmert and Bush do have to go, but this situation will only be resolved if their replacements value all human life more than any other interest. I do not see that happening.
I meant to say that Hanan Anami and her family were sheep herding.
They all look immensely worthy of protesting -- thanks for the tips. Praise Him!
Pursey, thank you for the clarification, because the thought of Hanan Anami being a bedouin goat was really peculiar. I'm just saying.

Meanwhile, Olmert has lost support of his party, and I believe that it won't be long before he is given a vote of no confidence.

My dear Bobby likes to tell of the time when Bill Clinton introduced Yassar Arafat to Benjamin "Bibi" Natenyahu. Bill said "Yassar, that's my Bibi."
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