Palestine: A Nation Occupied
By Joe Sacco, Fantagraphics Books, 1994, 144 pp. List: $14.95, AET: $10.95.
Reviewed by Stephen Sosebee
I was skeptical when I first heard about a comic book called Palestine. How could lighthearted fiction for kids deal seriously with a subject as complex and misunderstood as the intifada and Israeli occupation? So it was a pleasant surprise to read a comprehensive, enlightening and accurate non-fictional work that does not belittle the subject despite the comic form.
Palestine: A Nation Occupied by Joe Sacco, although written before the Oslo accords, is as relevant and accurate as any of the many academic books on the subject published over the past seven years. With keen eye and sharp pen, Sacco goes through the all-purpose West Bank/Gaza experience. Because of its fresh and interesting approach, Palestine can go a long way in educating younger readers about a complex issue to which they might otherwise never be exposed.
Palestine came about when Sacco did a two-month "intifada experience" in 1991-1992. Playing journalist, he explored the various facets of the occupation, which he explains with wit, clever drawings and personal insight. Though Palestine represents Sacco's experience, it also is that of many foreigners who have witnessed the intifada first-hand. Most other intifada veterans will identify with the hospitality of humble refugees, the chance encounters and the political debates.
Throughout the eight-part series, Sacco accurately depicts nearly all aspects of the Israeli occupation and the uprising. In "Public & Private Wounds," Sacco describes an intifada hospital visit, seeing injured Arab children eagerly presented by local activists for any foreigner interested in the human toll of the Palestinian struggle. Arab doctors tell of Israeli soldiers entering hospitals, beating patients and generally fueling the flames of revolt. These were common occurrences when Israeli leaders though force and might would smash the national will of an entire people.
In "Hebron," Sacco is touring the Ibrahimi mosque when a group of settlers begin to harass his elderly Arab guide. Little did Sacco realize that the same mosque would be bloodied less than two years later when one of these settlers massacred innocent Muslim worshippers during Ramadan prayers.
While Sacco is a witty story teller, he is also a fine artist. Armed Hebron settlers are depicted as messianic criminals with dark circles under their eyes. This is not just a caricature--many Kiryat Arba settlers really do look like that. The despair and rage on many of the refugee camp residents' faces say more about their plight than the written words. Yet the strength of this work is not only in the comprehensive manner in which he writes and draws the occupation and intifada, but in the stories of common Palestinians. Sacco succeeds in humanizing people who too often are depicted abroad as fanatical terrorists. …