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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Out of the Footnotes, December 16, 2009
This review is from: Footnotes in Gaza: A Graphic Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In a decades-long conflict, the details often get buried beneath the rubble of unending strife. Unfortunately, buried along with those details are the lives, sufferings, and losses of real human beings. In this intricately rendered and heart wrenching tome, graphic novelist/journalist and PALESTINE author Joe Sacco unearths one such historical footnote, recreating it through the eyes of those who survived.

Amid the 1956 Suez crisis, Israeli soldiers killed a large number (the exact figure is, of course, disputed) of Palestinian refugees from Gaza's Khan Younis and Rafah camps. According to a UN report, 275 Palestinians died in a November Israeli operation in Khan Younis; around the same time, scores of men were shot in Rafah.

FOOTNOTES provides the historical context for these incidents mainly through interviews with Israeli historian Mordechai Bar-On--General Moshe Dayan's personal assistant during the Suez crisis--and an unnamed Palestinian fedayee who took part in raids against Israel. Illustrating the contents of these interviews, Sacco sets the scene: a cycle of fedayeen raids and Israeli retaliation; Egypt's arms deal with Soviet-satellite Czechoslovakia; Nasser's dramatic nationalization of the Suez Canal; and the tripartite collusion between Israel, France, and Britain to gain control of the Suez.

Though he painstakingly researches the official documentation of the Khan Younis and Rafah incidents, most of the book comes from oral history interviews conducted with survivors and witnesses. FOOTNOTES tells not only their stories, but the story of Sacco's experience of getting those narratives. Interspersed with the oral histories are scenes of daily life, particularly during Sacco's March 2003 visit to Gaza. We experience his frustration with the fallibility of his sources, who are prone to forgetting things or going on tangents. We witness the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes along the Egyptian border--part of Israel's effort to disrupt smuggling networks--and the Palestinian reaction to the start of the Iraq War. The book also offers us a glimpse into the grinding poverty of life in the Strip.

FOOTNOTES' major drawback is its one-sidedness. Sacco provides the official Israeli accounts of the Rafah incident and the home demolitions, but these appear--ironically--as a footnote, relegated to the back of the book. Entirely absent are first-person narratives from Israelis who were there. Since the Israeli documents paint a very different picture of what happened, such narratives would have added credibility either by telling a conflicting side of the story or by confirming the Palestinian testimonies. They would have also allowed readers to glean something about why these shootings happened.

The graphic novel format makes for a unique reading experience, one that is more immersive than a text with words alone. One becomes absorbed in each panel, from two-page panoramas of the camps to the expressive faces of Sacco's interviewees. The combination of Sacco's remarkable 400 pages of illustrations and the first-person accounts allow him to dredge both incidents out of the impersonal footnotes and restore their human realness.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 14, 2010 4:19:37 PM PST
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Posted on Jan 14, 2010 4:22:12 PM PST
To the Editor:

Patrick Cockburn, reviewing Joe Sacco's "Footnotes in Gaza" (Dec. 27), encourages those who have "enduring anger against Israel." It's unfortunate that his article omits important facts.

For example, in concluding his review, he says: "In 2005, Israel unilaterally dismantled Jewish settlements and withdrew its military forces, although it remained in tight control of Gaza's borders. In 2007, Hamas seized control, and in 2008-9 the enclave came under devastating Israeli attack."

Where is any mention of the increasing number of rocket attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians that prompted the Israeli attack? Where is any mention of the greenhouses that were turned over to Gaza residents with the hope that they would bring peace, only to be destroyed by Palestinians? Where is any mention of the suicide attacks against Israeli citizens that make it necessary for Israel to control its borders?

Those who read Cockburn's review and don't know the facts may, I fear, come to have sympathy with those who hate Israel.

Glen Head, N.Y.

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 4:24:04 PM PST
To the Editor:
One sentence in Patrick Cockburn's review of Joe Sacco's book betrays the bias at the heart of both men's views: "The 1956 killings helped explain the violence almost 50 years later." Really? This one episode? Are we to ignore the Arab rejection of the original United Nations proposal for partition, the wars in which Israel was greatly outnumbered, the intifadas and refusals to negotiate, and all other incidents in which there was plenty of blame to go around? Only carefully selected moments in which the Palestinians can be depicted as victimized are germane to Sacco's argument. He has been selling this insulting put-down of the poor Palestinians for many years now. One doesn't have to ignore Israel's own sins to see that this is a one-sided public relations campaign that portrays clichéd angels and devils where there are in reality flawed human beings on both sides.
Melrose Park, Pa.
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