Book Review - Palestine by Joe Sacco

Brutality Brought Home

In the book '1984', Winston Smith is told what the future is going to be like. He is told to imagine a boot grinding a face into the ground over and over again. That's the type of reality that's been going on in Palestine since 1948. Recently someone gave me Palestine, by Joe Sacco, as a present. It's a story of the Israeli occupation told using the form of a graphic novel, a form that is used to great effect.

For example, beneath the wide expansive picture of everyday western life in Jerusalem, he takes us into the small subterranean world of the torture and beatings dished out to Palestinians a few metres below the surface. Each frame in the book gets smaller and smaller creating a claustrophobic effect until we are right there, tied to the pole with our arms aching in a tiny black box losing all hope for the prisoner. There were times when I had to stop reading because my heart was so heavy.

Sacco's account is set at the end of 1991 as he, the quiet rational anti-hero, goes on tour to all the hot spots that we are familiar with: Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Hebron. Here in overcrowded living rooms he meets, what Edward Said calls in his introduction, 'history's victims'. Young boys sit around and talk of throwing stones at soldiers. Old men talk of what it was like to have their land seized in 1948. People lift their jumpers to reveal the cuts and scars, the remnants of interrogations. A mother tells the story of how she had to bury her sons in the dead of night, after they had been shot by soldiers and refused treatment long enough so that their deaths became inevitable.

The same characters appear again and again in the West Bank. In Jabalia, a refugee camp that vies for the position as one of the most densely populated places on earth (65,000 people within two square kilometres) Ariel Sharon's troops bulldozed large sections in 1971 in order to 'pacify' the Gaza strip. This is the same camp where the first Intifada started in December 1987. Now, sixteen years later a new Intifada involving a new army of youth and suicide bombers rages, whilst Sharon sits as Prime Minister of Israel. Now he and his ilk are building a wall around the West Bank that they failed to pacify thirty-seven years ago.

There is one picture that's always stayed with me from this conflict. It's the footage of the Israeli soldiers breaking the arms of some youth by bringing down rocks on his extended arm. When you brutalise someone in this manner, you demean all humanity. This book brings home to us the terrible and tragic reality of the Israeli occupation - of the boot that continues to grind Palestinian faces into the ground.

See also

Anarchism and the fight against Imperialism


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This edition is No80 published in March 2004

Workers Solidarity No80