Graphic novel revisits Gaza killings

A page from 'Footnotes in Gaza' novel by Joe Sacco. (REUTERS)

Comic book meets investigative journalism in Footnotes in Gaza, a graphic novel by Joe Sacco that focuses on two days in Gaza in 1956 when Palestinians said hundreds of civilians were killed by Israeli forces.

Sacco and his researchers found almost nothing written in English about the episodes, despite UN estimates at the time putting the death toll at nearly 400: 275 in Khan Younis on November 3 and 111 in nearby Rafah on November 12.

In a bid to discover the truth about what he called a "footnote of history", the 49-year-old travelled to Gaza twice to interview people who witnessed the events.

Sacco, an award-winning artist and journalist who has produced a graphic novel about the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a comic book about the conflict in Bosnia, wanted to use the past as a way of exposing problems in the Middle East.

"People are so focused on what's going on now," he said in a recent interview. "When I was growing up there was a lot of news about Palestinians on TV and it was always hijackings, bombings and always related to terrorism.

"I was never given the context, and what brought them to that unhappy point. Some younger Palestinians I met thought perhaps I should be focusing on the here and now. This is not an isolated incident. Is it talking about a people who have been hammered over and over again."

The novel, around 400 pages long and containing detailed, black-and-white drawings, jumps from Sacco's visits to Gaza between November 2002 and March 2003 to the events of 1956, and places them in the context of the Suez crisis.

Israeli forces crossed the Gaza Strip and Sinai Desert with the declared aim of halting attacks by Egyptian-backed Palestinian fedayeen guerrillas, and it was during the campaign that the alleged massacres took place.

And Sacco hopes Footnotes in Gaza, which has won warm early reviews, will encourage others to look at the more obscure passages of the region's history. "There are very few definitive histories, especially talking about this part of the world," he said.

 

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