Joe Sacco’s Palestine was first published in instalments in the 1990s, to great critical acclaim. Followed by the collected book version in 2001, no-one else had done anything quite like it before – a journalistic account of his travels and interviews through the occupied territory of Palestine, in the illustrated form of a comic. This Special Edition comes in a solidly bound hardback with added features including Sacco’s own insight into the creation of the book.
Sacco spent two months in the Middle East, living with Palestinians, accepting the hospitality of refugees and bearing witness to the terrible conditions of the refugee camps the Israeli settlers have left them with. It isn’t a straight piece of journalism in almost any sense: Sacco makes the journalistic process of finding and conducting interviews part of the story; and Sacco himself is almost as big a focus of the piece as the human conflict he’s trying to depict.
As a result the illustration is raw and unforgiving. The refugee camps are depicted as permanent mud baths, where water-logged craters fill up with rubbish and the ramshackle buildings fail to withstand the weather. Sacco’s reliance on the Palestinians and his personalisation of the story lead to an emotional engagement that some might see as unbalanced reporting. He consistently looks for Palestinians who have been terribly affected by the situation – those who’ve been shot, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and forced to live in miserble squalor. While this all tells an important story, there’s no opportunity given for the other side to speak in its defence, except when he spends a few hours with a couple of Israeli women who show little sign of completely understanding the actions of their government. Sacco’s defence is that the Palestinian side of the argument is hidden from the west behind an Israeli PR smokescreen and the anti-Islamic leanings of the Western media. Why shouldn’t he tell the story of the Palestinians?
So it’s perhaps inevitable that the Palestinian people stand out. Drawn as world weary, downtrodden people, they still have pride and fire in their eyes. They lust for only one thing – a return to Palestine’s glory days. They talk of the horror of Israeli prisons yet wear their spells behind bars (for throwing stones or supporting liberation movements) with the utmost pride.
However you interpret its politics, it remains a powerful and important comic, brilliantly compiled in this special edition. If you have any interest in Middle-Eastern politics this is a must read, important not only for its ground-breaking mix of journalism and comics, but also because it’s a worthy piece of original research in its own right, created with the honesty and integrity that few journalists working within the mainstream media outlets can afford to offer.