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Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Footnotes in GazaOn this eve of 9/11, I’m in a frustrated funk. Regardless of political, religious, cultural, or ethnic affiliations, I think most Americans are shaking their heads at the state of the world, and definitely not shaking enough hands; not enough of us have  been able to turn away from watching an endless loop of the falling Towers all over again and again and again.

Indeed, this week’s intolerance has been overwhelming: the latest issue of Time magazine arrived in our mailbox with a cover screaming “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” [uh … happy Rosh Hashanah??!!]; the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has hit every media outlet (although thankfully a diverse coalition of young people are finding Common Ground and offering an alternative sanity); and then there’s Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida with his incendiary threats … which, ironically, is fueling debates on the ‘correct’ way to spell Koran, Quran, Qur’an. That’s just a few of the headlines this week …

While I don’t mean to use Joe Sacco’s eye-opening, heart-breaking work as a pulpit, I think his Footnotes in Gaza is an apt post for today. Sacco – born in Malta, currently living in Oregon when he’s not traveling, internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest cartoonists ever, best known for his American Book Award-winning Palestine – has built his career documenting death and destruction throughout the world. His is today’s real world of intolerance …

Sent on a Harper’s magazine assignment to the Gaza Strip in 2001 to “focus on how Palestinians in one town – Khan Younis – were coping during the early months of the Second Intifada against the Israeli occupation,” Sacco and his journalist partner uncovered “seemingly the greatest massacre of Palestinians on Palestinian soil.” Their November 1956 discovery was cut by the magazine’s editors, which Sacco found rightfully “galling.”

What had previously been relegated to mere footnotes in various reports gets full attention in Sacco’s latest title. As Sacco concurs with one of his interviewees, such events relegated to obscurity prove more important than ever as “they often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events.” Truth hurts.

Between November 2002 and March 2003, Sacco traveled back to Khan Younis and the neighboring town of Rafah, where “a couple of sentences in a U.N. report” led him to another related tragedy of scores of murders. His search for further information about both events is as much of the story here, as he works desperately to recreate the bloody events of November 1956 using eyewitness testimony, official U.N. documents, obscure newspaper reports, even paying two Israeli researchers to go through archives buried deep in the Israeli Defense Force’s military coffers. While details might differ over half a century later, the overall account of events concur: Innocent Palestinian men were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – massacre or mistake will depend on whose ‘side’ you’re on.

Sacco gravely reminds us that while he was immersed in the bloody events of 1956, “Israeli attacks were killing Palestinians, suicide bombers were killing Israelis, and elsewhere in the Middle East the United States was gearing up for war in Iraq.” Meanwhile, contemporary Khan Younis and Rafah remain fighting ground, constantly caught between a vicious cycle of destruction and reclamation from the rubble. Sacco himself becomes his prime eyewitness as his companions and friends vigilantly, selflessly keep him out of the line of neverending fire.

Tomorrow marks the 9th anniversary of 9/11. What will you do?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009



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