Palestine (Review)

Book cover for "Palestine" by Joe Sacco.Title: Palestine

Author: Joe Sacco

Publication Year: 2001 (originally released in 1996)

Pages: 285

Genre: Non-Fiction, Graphic Novel

Source: Personal copy given to me by Zaid

From the cover:

In late 1991 and early 1992, Joe Sacco spent two months with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, traveling and taking notes. Upon returning to the United States in mid-1992, he started writing and drawing Palestine, which combined the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comic-book storytelling to explore this complex, emotionally weighty situation.

The nine-issue comics series won a 1996 American Book Award and was a major success in its original two-volume collection. Palestine has now finally been released in a new one-volume format, with a new foreward by Edward W. Said.

Joe Sacco’s “graphic novel” – I prefer the term “comic journalism” – is absolutely beautiful and painstakingly crafted to show a behind-the-scenes look at the Occupied Territories, otherwise known as Palestine. I remembered loving this the first time around, and now that I have more background knowledge on the conflict and on the Israeli occupation, I have to say that I enjoyed it more, because I could just give myself up to the reading flow without having to look things up and figure out what names, places, and dates were referring to.

There are so many things that I’d like to say about Palestine, but there’s nothing I can say that would rival the description given by Edward Said in his introduction::

As we also live in a media-saturated world in which a huge preponderance of the world’s news images are controlled and diffused by a handful of men sitting in places like London and New York, a stream of comic book images and words, assertively etched, at times grotesquely emphatic and distended to math the extreme situations they depict, provide a remarkable antidote. In Joe Sacco’s world there are no smooth-talking announcers and presenters, no unctuous narrative of Israeli triumphs, democracy, achievements, no assumed and re-confirmed representations – all of them disconnected from any historical or social source, from any lived reality – of Palestinians as rock-throwing, rejectionist, and fundamentalist villains who main purpose is to make life difficult for the peace-loving, persecuted Israelis. What we get instead is seen through the eyes and persona of a modest-looking ubiquitous crew-cut young American man who appears to have wandered into an unfamiliar, inhospitable world of military occupation, arbitrary arrest, harrowing experiences of houses demolished and land expropriated, torture (“moderate physical pressure”) and sheer brute force generously, if cruelly, applied […], at whose mercy Palestinians live on a daily, indeed hourly basis.

Now, it’s not like Sacco has given a look at Palestine from a purposely skewed perspective. It’s more like … he’s given the Palestinian people a voice, he’s given

images and words and experiences to the problems that these people face in their day-to-day lives. Yes, there are lots of passages in this work that show Israelis in a negative light – particularly soldiers – but that’s sort of to be expected by someone who spend time in the Occupied Territories to research his story.

Click to see full-size.

In Palestine, Sacco has focused more on telling the stories of the everyday lives of those living in Gaza and the West Bank, and less on the national-level or worldwide politics that most writers focus on. Theoretical politics are really only discussed in Palestine in terms of the people he meets and their life experiences; Sacco doesn’t sit down and try to spell out all of the differences and the points of view. Rather, he tries to give a realistic portrayal of what it’s like for people living under the Occupation, giving a voice to the “losers” – those that history typically forgets or ignores in favour of the “winners”: in this case, Israel.

You may or may not agree with the Occupation, with Zionism, or with any of the related issues … but regardless of your political affiliation, Palestine would be a great read. It’s important that people can put human faces and conditions in the forefront of their minds when dealing with this ongoing conflict, and Sacco has done a wonderful job of individuating a variety of people and situations.

I’ve included one page of the novel so that you can see the graphic style and the way that Sacco tells his story. He uses a variety of techniques throughout the book, and not all of the pages/panels look like this – but it’s an example of the way that Sacco approaches things.

Three thumbs up, if I had that many. But as it is, I think this should be very close to required reading for anyone who’s trying to educate themselves about the Middle East.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

6 thoughts on “Palestine (Review)”

  1. I have actually been looking for some graphic novels in this vein, so thanks for your awesome review of this one! I am going to have to take a closer look at it. It sounds fascinating! Thanks!

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