Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Footnotes in Gaza

From the great cartoonist-reporter, a sweeping, original investigation of a forgotten crime in the most vexed of places

Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldoz


Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldozed to rubble. Rafah is today and has always been a notorious flashpoint in this bitterest of conflicts.

Buried deep in the archives is one bloody incident, in 1956, that left 111 Palestinians dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah—cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake—reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war. In a quest to get to the heart of what happened, Joe Sacco immerses himself in daily life of Rafah and the neighboring town of Khan Younis, uncovering Gaza past and present. Spanning fifty years, moving fluidly between one war and the next, alive with the voices of fugitives and schoolchildren, widows and sheikhs, Footnotes in Gaza captures the essence of a tragedy.

As in Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, Sacco’s unique visual journalism has rendered a contested landscape in brilliant, meticulous detail. Footnotes in Gaza, his most ambitious work to date, transforms a critical conflict of our age into an intimate and immediate experience.


…more


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    Seth T.

    Sep 08, 2010

    rated it
    it was amazing

    Let’s be honest for a moment: the only thing I know about Willard Quine, the 20th century Harvard philosopher, is a tacit understanding of his idea of recalcitrant experiences. And, having picked it up in a casual conversation at a Thanksgiving party more than a decade ago, I may not even have that right.

    The idea is 1) that each person has created a complex web of beliefs that fit together in such a way as to support their perception of the world and 2) as new pieces of information are assimilat

    The idea is 1) that each person has created a complex web of beliefs that fit together in such a way as to support their perception of the world and 2) as new pieces of information are assimilated, they are woven into the web in such a way that the worldview is supported still more strongly. Recalcitrant experiences, however, are those pieces of new information that cannot be assimilated into the web and, because of this, shatter a portion of the web of belief to such a degree that it must be rewoven—a task that alters sometimes greatly the shape and pattern of that web (and therefore the worldview it supports). The end of the matter is that the worldview shifts in previously unexpected ways.

    Reading the work of Joe Sacco was, for me, a recalcitrant experience.

    Let’s go back a decade or two to my formative Christian education. I grew up in California’s premiere non-denominational denomination. Calvary Chapel, an outgrowth of (and reaction to) the Four-Square tradition, is what one might call: very dispensational. As a teenager, it was not uncommon to see intricate charts illustrating all the maddening complexities of the eschatological framework that despotically governed our motivations; much of what we did was in mind of the imminent rapture of the church and its concordant seven years of tribulation (with a capital T). And above all things in our late-twentieth-century world, there was one idea that was of the utmost importance: to bless Israel was to curry favour with God and to curse Israel was to invite wrath and judgment. And even thinking a negative thought about the nation skirted cursing Israel so closely as to be indistinguishable from it.

    In point of fact, the Israeli nation could do no wrong.

    Israel occupies a special place in the dispensational understanding of things. As opposed to covenantal perspectives, dispensationalism holds Israel and her children in such high esteem that Messianic Jews are often seen as some glorious chimera who, being Jews, likely hold the keys to interpreting all the particularly knotty issues the Scriptures hold. Maps in textbooks of the region called Palestine are edited with Sharpies to become maps of Israel. There is within dispensational circles some variety of opinion as to just how deeply those descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should be revered, but in common to the last man, American dispensationalists seem to be deeply fearful of the president who finally gives in to the powers of the world and decides to stop supporting Israel.

    Such an action would surely lead to the ruin of the American nation. We would be cursed of God. We would flee in seven ways from before our enemies. The skies would be as bronze. There would be molds. Plural.

    So then, what did Joe Sacco do? The first thing and the one that affected me recalcitrantly was craft a comic called Palestine.


    A typical day in Palestine

    Palestine and the Shifting Sands of Paradigms
    Sacco is a special kind of journalist. Over the last fifteen years, he’s produced book after book giving readers an up-close perspective of areas of the world torn by the kind of traumas that Americans will likely never have to face. At least not in our generation. Maybe in the next if they are especially unlucky.

    1999’s Palestine was a sprawling, 288-page non-fictional comic book that chronicles Sacco’s experience in Palestine at the tail end of the First Intifada (that is, the uprising of the Palestinian people against what they considered to be the oppressive Israeli regime—this lasted from 1987 through 1993). Sacco peppers his narrative with interview after interview, speaking to both Palestinians and Israelis, though spending more time on the Palestinian side of the equation. At one point he responds to a skeptical Israeli woman who wonders why he isn’t more interested in interviewing Israelis, telling the reader that he’s heard Israel’s side of things his entire life.

    I could relate.


    Joe Sacco confesses the reason behind his biases

    Ever since I was old enough to know that there was still a nation called Israel and old enough to know that there was a PLO and Arabs and a Palestinian people, I knew that Israel was the good guy and all those nations around them were the enemy who wanted Israel dead, who wanted God’s chosen people dead. There was no way I was able to process information that might portray Israel in a negative light save to either spin it positively or simply reject it as the, quote-unquote, Bias of the Liberal Media.

    What? Israel attacked Palestine and a bunch of citizens were killed? Well, the Palestinians know that Israel’s policy is to return an attack with a force greater than that with which they were attacked. They should just stop attacking! What? Israel’s taking land from the Palestinians in order to house new Jewish immigrants? Well, it is their land after all. God did promise it to them. The Palestinians are just lucky the Israelis don’t act like God commanded them to in the Old Testament. What? Israel’s torturing and killing innocent people? In cold blood? Liberal lies.

    It’s very easy to maintain a belief system when one is immune to new information. Of course, Sacco’s Palestine hit me in a way I was totally unprepared for. Instead of railing against Israel, instead of merely exposing some of their more dubious methods of controlling the Palestinian people, it took a far more direct route. It did something I could never have expected or defended against.

    It humanized the people of Palestine.

    It did the same for the Israelis, sure, but in my mind they were already quite human. It was the Palestinians who were essentially kobolds or orcs, fantastic creatures whose whole existence was devoted to the hope of Israel’s destruction. Yet Sacco unveils a people rich in culture, grievously wronged by world powers generations earlier, and presently stuck in circumstances with no ready solution. Their populace is as varied in its opinions, beliefs, and desires as is our own. Some want peace at all costs. Some want a fair and equitable resolution to the conflict. Some want reparations. And some want war so badly that it hurts. These were people with dreams and nightmares. People governed by hope and by hopelessness.

    These were, whether I liked it or not, people.

    And so, Joe Sacco, with a single book, turned my ability to (mis)understand Israel’s place in the Middle East on its ear. Suddenly I was able to hear things I had been previously deaf to. I was able at last to empathize with the plights of my brothers and sisters who happen to be Palestinian. More, I became able to empathize with people in a vast array of cultures that had previously been marginalized by my theological framework. By the time I had read Palestine, I had abandoned dispensationalism a couple years earlier but had still retained my warm-hearted sentiment toward the Israeli nation. I can’t imagine how chaotic this shift in thinking would have been had I still held doggedly to the dispensational system.

    Footnotes in Gaza: A New Opportunity
    Still, that was years ago. And really, not much has changed in the Palestinian/Israeli relationship. Palestinians still feel oppressed (and rightly so) and lob bombs into Israel destroying the lives of random people with mothers and children and lovers; and Israelis still feel attacked (and rightly so) and shoot missiles into Palestine destroying the lives of random people with mothers and children and lovers. The tragic circle of self-perpetuated war and terror continues and my anger at both groups swells like the tides under a full moon. So why bring this up now?

    The thing is: Joe Sacco has a new book and I got it for Christmas. (And devoured it before New Year’s.)

    After several excellent journalistic comics featuring the Bosnian war and its aftermath, Sacco returns once more to the Palestinian conflict. And this time he has a far more specific goal in mind. Footnotes in Gaza, at 432 lushly illustrated pages, offers a new avenue for Americans who support Israel unreservedly to experience a paradigm shift and the opportunity to experience the conflict from the eyes of those who hold a perspective unique from anything we could ever muster on our own.

    Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

    In Footnotes, Sacco splits time between present-day Gaza (that is, 2003—these things take a long time to draw) and Gaza in 1956 where he hopes to unveil the truth behind two massacres the Israelis purportedly carried out against Palestinian civilians at the end of the Suez Crisis. In the present day, Sacco moves from contact to contact with his guide and advisor, Abed, as they seek out anyone who lived through the terrible events. Along the way, Sacco treats subjects as various as the mindset of insurgents, the demolition of Palestinian homes at the edge of the refugee camps, the sheer mass of poverty these people experience, Palestinian reaction to American interventionism, and (briefly) the death of Rachel Corrie.


    Joe and Abed tour the destroyed home they had visited weeks earlier

    As he slowly unveils what happened and what may have happened (Sacco is at all times circumspect about the fact that his interviewees are all very old and that their stories oftentimes conflict), we’re given a sense of just how desperate the situation is—not for the region but for the people. What is so often lost in the news reports we hear from Gaza is that these terrible circumstances are not just part of a larger political struggle and the ways of nations, but that these horrors are the fabric from which individual human lives are cut. If not for the hand of a fate that we can neither predict nor understand, that could be my mother whose leg was blown off in the most recent shelling. That could be my daughter who was killed in a Palestinian incursion. That could be my home being demolished suddenly for no better reason than that it provides decent cover for potential insurrectionists.


    A woman speaks of the shelling that she and her sister fell prey to the previous night while running an errand

    In Footnotes, Sacco proves that he is becoming better and better at what he does. Prior books Palestine and Safe Area: Gorazde are both fantastic treatments of their unique subjects, but with his present work, Sacco shows a lot of narrative growth. The book is hard and unrelenting and funny and insightful—and the way Sacco threads the whole thing together speaks to the fact that he is becoming a master at the craft.


    Faris Barbakh as an old man remembering the massacre at Khan Younis as a fourteen-year-old in 1956

    There have been criticisms that Sacco is too biased toward the plight of the Palestinians and that Footnotes is clearly a work of propaganda. These arguments however show that either the critics failed to actually read the work or they were so ready to assign the author blame that they missed the nuance that carries Sacco through his endeavor. The author continually remarks at how little verifiable information they have on these massacres. He notes baldly his skepticism toward a number of interviewers. He records with faithfulness the distasteful rhetoric of some of his contacts (e.g. those who wish for more suicide bombings and those who wish for the destruction of America). He records the Israeli perspective of how and why certain things happened. Or even if they happened.


    Joe and Abed contemplate the uncertainties that plague all historians

    Joe Sacco, like everyone, has his sympathies, but they certainly should not get in the way of this beautifully rendered, thoughtful remark upon a situation that is even now tearing at the seams of the world and baffling world leaders who want to see it end but can puzzle out no easy solution.

    I try not to read Sacco’s books too often because they tear at my soul. My first reaction is rage and fury, but then I recall that this entire situation is built on the stuff. Rage and fury never solved these kinds of conflict. And so, instead I am overcome by grief and a sadness that I am completely powerless to protect these people, to offer them any kind of real support (beyond educating myself and those within my circles). I try not to read Sacco’s books too often, but I do read them because they are important and essential. They work to keep me human and they work to remind me that others are too. I think of the Palestinians (our brothers and sisters) who live under constant threat simply for the fact that they were born in the wrong place. I think: we can do better than this. We don’t have to be so cruel and hateful and angry and greedy and terrifying. And then, I remember history and how if history teaches us anything, it’s that there will be no end to this kind of horror save for the grave.

    [review courtesy of Good Ok Bad]
    …more

    Paul Bryant

    This book is all about Gaza, where those Palestinians live. You’ve heard all this woebegone Palestinian stuff before, too many times. What a benighted people they are, either victims or terrorists, that’s all they ever seem to be, and this big book reinforces that stereotype on every page. It’s about Joe Sacco’s quixotic one-man research mission into two atrocities committed by Israeli armed forces in 1956 – oh yeah, very worthy. Joe was offended that these two massacres had been simply beneath

    So this painfully earnest book is about

    – Joe’s dogged attempts to find, interview and understand the survivors of these atrocities
    – Joe’s reconstruction of events of 1956

    and bursting brutally into everything Joe does

    – the shit that was going down all around Joe as he treks around Rafah with his Palestinian mate Abed. Demolitions, bullets flying, people being killed, day in, day out.

    I think that the day to day stuff is what this book is really about.

    Not unreasonably, some people Joe meets tend to say things like “What the [something untranslatable] do you want to bother with 1956 for, are you crazy? They just bulldozed my house and my mother’s house! Write about that!”

    Joe encounters all sorts of stuff, including Hamas demonstrations featuring balaclava’d guys wearing fake suicide bomber jackets and holding up pix of their hero Saddam Hussain.

    I don’t deny that this book is one long festival of misery and tears and you do tend to get inured to all these scenes of horror. Occasionally something gets through and jolts the reader’s composure, like the taxi driver who suddenly freaks out and yells “They killed a pregnant woman yesterday AND THEY SAID THEY WERE SORRY! Let’s do what WE need to do and then WE CAN SAY WE’RE SORRY!”

    I remember my own mother, watching the tv news about Palestine, this was years ago, and she would sometimes say “Why do they treat these people like that? The Jews of all people should know what it’s like.” But the way I see it, the abused child does not grow up to be a saint, quite often the opposite happens and the abused becomes in turn the abuser. I don’t think that’s an original thought.

    Joe Sacco creates beautiful, painful books. But, you know, history will teach us nothing.


    …more

    Jared Millet

    Jan 15, 2010

    rated it
    it was amazing

    This book will make you angry. It will also break your heart, assuming you have one.

    In 1956, during a brief conflict between Israel and Egypt that no one in America knows about since we weren’t there and never made a TV show about it, Israeli troops raided the refugee towns of Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip and killed upwards of 111 Arabs, most of whom were innocent bystanders.

    So why should we care about ancient history? Many of Joe Sacco’s sources say the same thing as he basically goe

    In 1956, during a brief conflict between Israel and Egypt that no one in America knows about since we weren’t there and never made a TV show about it, Israeli troops raided the refugee towns of Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip and killed upwards of 111 Arabs, most of whom were innocent bystanders.

    So why should we care about ancient history? Many of Joe Sacco’s sources say the same thing as he basically goes door-to-door through Gaza on the eve of the 2nd Iraq War gathering oral histories. Who wants to talk about the past when there are plenty of atrocities to go around today?

    But he presses on. Footnotes in Gaza is as much the story of Sacco’s search for an unrecorded piece of history as it is the story of what he uncovers. That he renders the stories he collects into a comic book of all things is what really makes it work. Words on paper are too cold, too abstract. We hear them every day: 20 killed in Pakistan, 30 in Afghanistan. Numbers mean nothing. Besides, they’re “others” – Muslims, terrorists, or whatever else Fox News wants us to be afraid of.

    What Sacco does is to give each victim a face – each dead body, each child running for his life, each grieving widow who watches her home demolished, and every angry father, brother and son who sees no way out except through violence or surrender. Sacco makes it impossible to turn away, except by the conscious effort of closing his book, and closing your eyes.
    …more