Joe Sacco - Gaza Stripped
'George Orwell, now there’s a person who could write good journalism but you can’t say he was objective. He went to Spain to fight not to write a book; the book he wrote was very honest about what happened.’ Joe Sacco is no fan of objective reportage. The Maltese-born comics writer and journalist’s political and historically riven books are testament to that, whether they focus on the Middle East or the killing fields of Bosnia.
He has now returned to the subject matter of his first book Palestine (written about his experiences on the West Bank in the early 90s) to centre in on the secret histories which revolve around the establishment of the Israeli state. The genesis of Footnotes in Gaza was born out of the author’s exasperation.
‘In 2001, I went to Gaza with a journalist called Chris Hedges on an assignment from Harper’s magazine. He went as a writer with me as the illustrator. We were going to focus on one town, the town of Khan Younis. Before we went I seemed to recall something I had read about Khan Younis, about an incident which happened in the 1950s where a lot of people were killed. When we got there, Chris was asking around about that massacre and people were telling us some of the stories. But when the article was printed, that part of the story, the historical part, was cut from the article. Well that just sort of bothered me; I’m one of those people who think history is pretty damn important for providing context for what is happening.’
Sacco later ended up returning to Gaza and in researching the nightmare that unfolded in Khan Younis in 1956, he found out about an equally horrific if more complicated incident that happened ten days later in the town of Rafah. It is these two events that form the largest parts of Sacco’s new book. Through a painstaking process of interviewing and journal writing (and a complex system of cross referencing between the two) Sacco has created a work that, like his previous books, jettisons objectivity for something far more empathetic and subjective.
Yet he refuses to see himself as a polemicist: ‘I don’t believe in polemics at all. I do believe in having an opinion but I want it to be an informed opinion. If I find something that doesn’t gel with my belief, then I’m definitely going to report it. Honesty and objectivity to me are two different things.’
Having now put Footnotes in Gaza out in the world Sacco refuses to dwell (or ‘wallow’, as he puts it) on its effect as either a testimonial or as reportage. He has already moved on from the Middle East and is working on a project with Hedges about Camden, New Jersey – ‘one of the poorest and most crime-ridden towns in America’ – and has returned to his Maltese roots for a project for the Virginia Quarterly Review about African migrants trying to make their way to Europe. ‘It’s good to be able to return and talk about the problems with your own place.’ He sighs, subjectively.
Footnotes in Gaza is out now published by Jonathan Cape.