A Bookworm's Corner: The Ugly Side of History"Footnotes in Gaza" by Joe Sacco
By: Yuliya Nemykina , East High School
When Marjane Satrapi and Art Spiegelman published their accounts of history of the Iranian Revolution and World War II respectively, graphic novels became more than a children’s medium for superhero stories. However, Joe Sacco took it to the next level when he used it as a new journalistic medium, following the rules of newspaper writing to tell personal, difficult stories. In 2001, during an assignment in the Gaza Strip to investigate the killings of Palestinian civilians in a refugee camp named Khan Younis in 1956, he stumbled upon another incident of deaths during the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—more than 100 people killed during what should have been a routine screening in the nearby town of Rafah. Surprised and outraged at how easily the world was willing to throw both events into obscurity, Joe did what a feature journalist would do—he decided to investigate the events himself and uncover the truth behind vague UN reports by putting faces to the numbers.
"Both towns stand in for all those places, all those things that are more widely left out of history. They're footnotes, but these were also an important day in some people's lives,” Sacco told “The Observer.”
Sacco’s strength is in his blend of history and journalism. He skims over the history of the West Bank, identifying witnesses from both sides before getting into the two specific incidents. Even then, he interviews Israeli officials alongside Palestinian survivors. However, unlike most articles where the author is invisible and impersonal, offering only a few details about the setting, Sacco puts himself right in the panels, his journey to find the story as much a part of the book as the events of 1956. It’s this juxtaposition of modern and old that makes the parallels so chilling.
The pictures are very much a part of the story with realistic faces and settings that show Sacco’s fearlessness toward the uglier sides of the world. He asks difficult questions, identifies subjects (or explains their request to remain anonymous), leaves transcripts of interviews and meeting minutes at the end of the book, and, with the help of his guide, Abed, finds sources from bystanders to faces from the Israeli most wanted list.
And as Socco inserts himself into the narrative, he makes the tale more accurate. As he explores Middle Eastern customs such as the festival Eid El-Adha, he also notes the problems with writing about events that happened generations ago in an area where tragedy is a daily fact. Memories become distorted, and, although the main events match up in the interviews, details differ from person to person. In one family, a man remembers his brother’s death even if another family member claims that he wasn’t there.
And, of course, “Footnotes” is a journalistic work, so you have to read it with analytical eyes. Many of Sacco’s subjects are extremists, and there are persons from both sides who favor violence as Joe paints an image of the Gaza Strip tired of oppression and simmering with anger at the oncoming conflict between Iraq and the US.
Sacco’s is a history of losers, a chilling, ugly side of the story that forced me to question the credibility of “official” reports and politicians’ assurances. It made me wonder how censored our news are, and what happens under the guise of cold statistics—reasons why conflicts grow worldwide and people are willing to murder, the fear that makes people shoot at civilians and organize raids against sleeping neighbors. It’s one of those books that should be required reading for International Studies, and one never forgets.