Footnotes in Gaza: Sacco’s Profound Testimony

I just noticed that Joe Sacco’s brilliant graphic novel “Footnotes in Gaza” has just come out in paperback. I can safely say without hesitation that this is the best book I’ve ever read about Gaza (and trust me, I’ve read a lot).

Sacco composed “Footnotes” as a first person account of his own experiences in Gaza. He begins by portraying his efforts to document the 1956 massacre in Khan Younis, in which the IDF briefly occupied the Egyptian-ruled Gaza Strip and killed 275 Palestinians. During the course of his investigation, Sacco learns about another, lesser known incident that occurred around the same time in the neighboring town of Rafah, in which Israeli forces killed 110 Palestinians in what should have been a standard “screening operation.”

It’s hard for me to convey the effect this book had on me when I read it last year. It unfolds in a myriad of layers: it’s a mediation on history, on war, on memory, and on the way the past seems to continuously, inevitably inform the present. Especially in this day and age, in which the 24 hour news cycle chops events up into disconnected bits, Sacco’s testimony on the events of 1956 are a critical reminder that Gaza’s current agony is only the latest chapter in a much, much longer story that still continues to unfold. In short: those of us who want to understand the Gaza conflict today must learn this history.

It took me a very long time to read “Footnotes.” Its narrative is dense, its subject matter is profoundly painful, and its depiction of violence so unflinchingly raw. There were several times I had to just stop and put the book down for a few days or weeks just to absorb what I had just taken in. A year after reading it, many of its words and images still resonate powerfully for me.

It’s actually pretty remarkable to think that a comic book accounting of two little known historical “footnotes” that occurred in this tiny strip of land that could provide such a deep and profound testimony. But trust me, it does. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

4 thoughts on “Footnotes in Gaza: Sacco’s Profound Testimony

  1. Rachel Barenblat

    Thank you for this review. I didn’t know about “Footnotes in Gaza,” but I read Sacco’s “Palestine” some years ago (and reviewed it on Velveteen Rabbi: and I am definitely a fan both of the graphic novel genre and of his work in particular. I found “Palestine” tremendously painful to read, but I’m glad I read it, and I recommend it to others (especially other American Jews, who I think tend to be insulated from these particular stories.) I’ve added “Footnotes” to my Amazon wishlist and look forward to reading it soon.

    Shabbat shalom.

  2. Miriam

    I agree with Brant; this was the best book I have read about Gaza. Oscar Wilde was right when he said that ‘life imitates art.’ When I went to the West Bank, I was seeing illustrations of Sacco’s work right before my eyes. He has captured both the reality and the pain of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, and it is heartbreaking, brilliant, and true.

  3. Yakov Wolf

    I received Footnotes in Gaza as a birthday gift this past march. I read 20 or so pages about once a month and still haven’t finished it. It’s an incredibly mesmerizing but painful story to read and I find that I often have to go back and re-read pages because of what I agree to be the density of the narrative. I was well on my way to absorbing the Israel Right-or-wrong mentality before I started reading FiG and my perspective on Palestine/Israel would be completely different without it. Thanks for inspiring me to pick it up again.

  4. Muhannad

    Thank you Brant,
    after I read your post, I decided to finally go head and buy it. I did!! and I could not put down..for the las 4 days did not do anything but reading and going to work……what a great work by Sacco
    Thank you again Brant


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