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.