Book Review – Palestine by Joe Sacco: Pioneer of Journalistic Comic

I’ve been seeing people say they don’t understand what’s going on with Israel and Palestine so, if you’re familiar and comfortable with the graphic novel format, please give Palestine by Joe Sacco a read.

Joe Sacco’s graphic novel is about his time and journeys through the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 90s. Sacco’s journalistic work in Palestine is stark, brutal, humanizing, and fair, looking at the people as well as the occupation, never reducing things to abstractions. There are no easy answers and a lot of difficult truths.

In Chapter 2, Israeli soldiers are terrorizing people in hospitals. Right now, the scale of things is new, but the behavior is not. My heart breaks for how long the Palestinian people have tried to show the world all the miseries they’ve gone through.

At a point in Palestine, Sacco reads Edward Said’s Orientalism. Originally used as a cultural term referring to how the West depicted the East, Said used the term to go further. His text essentially refers to how the West views the East, that is, with condescension and colonial attitudes. Essentially, the West, in their view of the East as romanticized or exotic, viewed and represented them as other or lesser. Said, who comes from a Palestinian background, felt that the great Western writers who’d written about the East had all portrayed it in a way that wasn’t familiar to him, that was ancient.

Joe Sacco’s manner of addressing such a sensitive topic concerning the displacement and injustice of the Palestinian people is presented in a very different format than basic journalism. I believe part of the answer to the question asked on page 161, “What good does it do, your coming here to write about these things?” is that he is sharing their stories.

Although many Palestinians may have spoken to journalists and become skeptical that any accounts they’ve shared will create change, I believe Sacco’s approach is different. By abandoning typical journalistic practices and portraying the disheartening struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians via comics instead of a somber journalistic story, he is bringing them to life. Illustration adds humanistic qualities to his work that otherwise could not be translated by text.

Through the use of illustration, he paints a picture of who the Palestinian people are, what life is like, and even their doubts about the good Sacco’s book will accomplish, especially in the United States.

On Page 162 one of the men even states, “Americans care more about the rights of animals than about what happens to us!” By including this, in a way, he is saying to Americans— you see, this is how the people of Palestine view our response or lack thereof to the injustices to human rights they are experiencing. I believe this allows the characters in his comic to come alive in the minds of his readers.

Through the use of skepticism in his characters when questioning the impact his book will have, he is almost in a way leaving it up to the readers. In doing so, he is implying that although he and his characters may doubt the good his book will do, the significance the book carries is ultimately up to his readers.

Joe Sacco’s Palestine possibly defines the genre of non-fiction graphic novels for me. For those who are too busy to read thoroughly researched works on topics like Palestine or Kashmir, and find the overly simplistic articles very inadequate, graphic novels (as well as some exceptional movies) offer an incredible medium to dig deeper and expand our understanding of major events through the eyes of those who lived through them.

Favorite Quotes from Palestine by Joe Sacco:

• “and if I’d guessed before I got here, and found with little astonishment once I’d arrived, what can happen to someone who thinks he has all the power, / what of this—what becomes of someone who believes himself to have none?”

• “For the Jews to be treated the way they’ve been treated and then to treat the Palestinians that way!”

• “In each attack,” he [Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion] wrote, “a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.” When that was basically accomplished he told an advisor, “Palestinian Arabs have only one role left—to flee.”

• …parallel universes… Here? On the surface streets: traffic, couples in love, falafel-to-go, tourists in jogging suits licking stamps for postcards… And over the wall behind closed doors: other things — people strapped to chairs, sleep depravation, the smell of piss… other things happening for “reasons of national security…”

• …we all want peace, whatever that is, but peace can mean different things, too, and isn’t described identically by all who wish to imagine it…


You may also like...

1 Response

  1. February 2, 2024

    […] Book Review – Palestine by Joe Sacco: Pioneer of Journalistic Comic […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *