Saturday, June 26, 2010

Footnotes in Gaza

Earlier this month, I read Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco, soon after reading his earlier Palestine. Both are books of graphic journalism. Both are substantial contributions to the quest to reveal the truth about the crimes of the Zionist apartheid state of Israel. I sent a request for permission to reproduce a page or two here from Footnotes in Gaza to give a sense of how Sacco accomplishes what he accomplishes, but I've had no response so I'm not going to wait any longer to post a brief note. Sacco's work merits better, but it's a busy weekend what with Gay Day tomorrow and also I'm having some computer trouble, so a brief note will have to suffice.

Both Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza consist of first-person reportage based on Sacco's trips to the occupied land. Palestine is an on-the-ground view of the first Intifada. Footnotes is simultaneously an investigation into two hidden historic atrocities and, again, an on-the-ground view, this time of what life is like for the Palestinians of occupied Gaza. Together, the books add up to a damning indictment of Israel, in a broad sense. That is, they not only present an in-your-face eyewitness account of some of the crimes committed day in and day out in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Perhaps more important, simply by laying out these crimes--by literally showing them with his fine and horrifying images on page after page--Sacco makes the reader see how the crimes accrue, day by day, dead Palestinian by dead Palestinian, bulldozed home by bulldozed home. So that any reader other than the most diehard racist apologist for Israel must conclude that, as per the Marxist precept of quantity turning into quality, these horrors are not isolated incidents but rather they add up to the meat of the matter.

Massacre. Murder. Removal and relocation. Theft. Withholding of food, of access to education or medical treatment. This is Zionism. These are not aberrations. They are not even merely policy, although they are surely that. They are the essence of the Zionist project, the deeply reactionary, racist project of creating and maintaining a "Jewish state" on the occupied land of Palestine.

Footnotes in Gaza focuses on two large-scale massacres perpetrated by Israel against the civilian population of Gaza that took place in 1956 and now are virtually unknown to the rest of the world. In painstaking detail, Sacco tells both stories, and at the same time the story of how he investigated, how, interview by interview, visit by visit, he pieced together a reliable account of these two terrible days.

It's hard to take. Some of these scenes bear such a close resemblance to images from the Nazi holocaust--people lined up against a wall and shot, people forced to run through a gauntlet of taunting soldiers and beaten or shot, people herded into mass groups and forced to stay still in the heat of the sun, forced to piss on themselves, people forced to line up before soldiers sitting at tables with lists of names and separated into groups of who will live and who will die--that it was all I could do to not just slump down onto the floor crying oh my people what have you done? However, they are not my people, the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, and crying does no good for Palestine. What the Palestinians need is solidarity. Which is currently spreading by leaps and bounds, and would spread even faster, I think, if books like Footnotes got into more hands.

Before I close I want to mention one particular way Footnotes makes its point with most impact. That is via the faces and names of the Palestinians whose testimony Sacco reproduces. Day after day he sits with some elder, his or her face etched with the pain and sorrow of a long life of suffering, and listens, takes notes and sketches while the elder recounts his or her tale. On the page, each face comes alive. And, with the exception of a few who requested anonymity, itself a statement about life in Gaza, each face has a name. All these names. Mohammed Juma' El-Ghoul, El-Sayed Abdel Hamid Abu Taha, Ra'esa Salim Hassan Kaloob, Hassan Hammad Abu Sitta, and many more. Each leaps from the page as a full human being, a person of depth and dimension and emotion and intellect. That this should be noteworthy is a measure of how racist is the Zionist ideology which, on behalf of U.S. imperialism and Big Oil, has held consciousness nearly totally in its sway in this country and Israel.

But it is noteworthy. Sacco's presentation of these human beings and what they have endured at the hands of the U.S.-armed and U.S.-funded client state of Israel is a smack in the face to Zionist propaganda. Which was built on denying the existence, let alone the right to their homeland, let alone the basic humanity, of the Palestinian people.

Remember the words of two former Israeli prime ministers. These are chosen at random, for you can find the same from any of them. Golda Meir, June 15, 1969: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. ... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist." Menachem Begin, June 1982: The Palestinians "are beasts walking on two legs."

No, you vile thugs of the apartheid state, you're the beasts, and, as you well know, your monopoly on the narrative is crumbling. More and more are coming to know the truth. More and more are signing on to the movement to free Palestine. And more still will. I wish books like Sacco's could get into many hands across the lands. I think they'd help in this effort to open eyes and win allies for the people of Palestine.