Posts Tagged ‘Joe Sacco’

Jared Kushner’s Worthless Peace Deal for the Palestinians

July 9, 2018

Jared Kushner is proving to be every bit a bumptious, arrogrant braggart as his father-in-law, Donald Trump. Trump boasts that every deal or bill he’s going to pass will be absolutely wonderful, pushing them in the most superlative tones. So did Kushner about two weeks ago, when he declared that he was going to make a peace deal with the Palestinians. This was going to be great for the Israelis, and great for the Palestinians. He was not, however, going to spoil it by including the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in the negotiations.

I don’t know what kind of deal he finalised, but I doubt is has any value to the Palestinians themselves. If memory serves me right, Kushner is one of the leaders of the Jewish National Fund in America. This is the Israeli organisation, which owns 97 per cent of the land in Israel, which is very much reserved for Israelis and definitely not for Palestinians.

And even if he isn’t connected to that organisation, Kushner is a real estate developer in Israel, who specialises in buying up Palestinian land and developing Israeli settlements, businesses and homes in the Occupied Territories.

The last peace deal the Israelis made with the Palestinians in the 1990s, according to Joe Sacco’s Palestine, did precious little to benefit the Palestinians. They were given an independent authority, but the occupation and its brutalities and injustices continued, as did the constrution and expansion of the illegal settlements. Kushner’s peace deal sounds exactly the same, with the exception that he doesn’t trust the Palestinian leader himself to agree to it. Perhaps the real reason he want to cut Abbas out of the negotiations was because the Palestinian leader may have been a bit too wise to what Kushner would try.

This looks like another insubstantial peace process, where Kushner, America and the Israelis will offer scraps or tokens, while making sure that the indigenous people of Israel will continue to have their lands seized, their schools closed, their homes bulldozed, water fouled, and themselves shot and persecuted as part of the Israelis’ long campaign of ethnic cleansing against them.

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Review: Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine’

May 12, 2018

(London: Jonathan Cape 2001)

This is one of the classics of the graphic novel. Joe Sacco is an American journalist. He spent two months with the Palestinians in late 1991 and early 1992 in Gaza and the West Bank during the time of the first Intifada. He wrote and drew Palestine after his return to the US, basing it on his notes, publishing it as a nine-part comic strip. These were later collected into a single volume to form the graphic novel. The book also has a kind of introduction, ‘Homage to Joe Sacco’, from Edward Said, the author of Orientalism, critic of western imperialism and attitudes to the Arabs, and himself a Palestinian.

This is precisely the type of book the Israel lobby does not want people to read. Not BICOM, not the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which was set up because Gideon Falter, its founder, was worried about British attitudes becoming more hostile to Israel after the blockade of Gaza, not the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion and the companion party to the Israeli Labor Party, not the various ‘Friends of Israel’ societies in the political parties, Tories and Labour, nor the Jewish Leadership Council and definitely not the Board of Deputies of British Jews. All of them shout ‘anti-Semitism’ at anyone who dares to publish anything critical of Israel, or show the barbarity with which it treats the Palestinians.

The book shows Sacco’s experiences as he goes around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, talking to both Palestinians and Israelis, meeting them, entering their homes, and listening to their stories. He starts the book in Cairo, the beginning of his journey to Israel, and to which he returns at his departure. During his time there, he visits the Vale of Kidron, the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza strip, as it then was, Balata, another refugee camp on the West Bank, Nablus, the town of Gaza itself, and finally Tel Aviv.

It’s not an easy read. This is an occupied country during deep unrest, and the threat of violence and arbitrary arrest and detention without trial is every where. There are patrols of soldiers, demonstrations, explosions and stone throwing. And he shows, with quotes, the contemptuous, lofty and hostile attitude the early Zionists and Lord Balfour had for the indigenous population. He quotes Balfour as saying

‘Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit this ancient land. We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the inhabitants’.

Ben Gurion thought it would be simple to expel the Palestinians, because he felt they had no real attachment to their homeland. He wrote that the Palestinian ‘is equally at ease whether in Jordan, Lebanon or a variety of other places’. With the approach of war, he made it clear their expulsion was going to be through military force: ‘In each attack a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.’ When that was done, ‘Palestinian Arabs have only one role – to flee’. He also quotes Golda Meir, who stated that a Palestinian people, defining itself as a Palestinian people, did not exist, and ‘we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They do not exist’. 400 Palestinian villages were razed in the war marking the birth of Israel. Meir’s lie – that the Palestinians don’t exist as a people – is still repeated by Republican and pro-Israel bloggers. Golda Meir was also concerned about the Palestinian population outstripping that of the Israelis, another issue that is still very alive today.

His hosts are polite, welcoming him into their homes, and plying him with tea. But occasionally there is an outburst from one of them, when he’s asked what the point of him being there, of them talking to him, is. Because other journalists have been there too, and they’ve talked to them, and nothing has happened, nothing has changed. They also talk to him about the other factions, and of the peace process. In a separate text at the beginning of the book, he states that, while the peace process set up the Palestinian authority and gave them a government, it changed nothing for ordinary Palestinians, and the occupation and theft of land by the Israelis still goes on.

He also reveals that the Israelis appropriate 2/3 of the land in the West Bank for their own us, which includes the establishment of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. And the governments gives Israelis plenty of incentives to move to them. They’re given a government grant if they do, lower interest rates on loan, the housing itself is cheaper than in Israel, and an income tax rate of 7 per cent. The settlers themselves can be extremely aggressive. Sacco’s hosts tell them about incidents where settlers have come into Palestinian villages, smashing windows and demanding that the owners come out. Of people shot by them, and the trivial sentences given to the settlers guilty of this. They’re given jail sentences of a few months. If they’re convicted in the first place. Palestinians who shoot and kill Israelis are jailed for years. Some lavish homes do exist in Palestine, occupied by Arabs, but most live in very bare houses, often with leaking roofs, which are vulnerable to storms.

His cartoons show what his Palestinian hosts tell him it’s like in prison camps like Ansar III, with crowds of prisoners crammed into small, bare rooms with no heat and poor ventilation. There are also few eating utensils, to the various political factions in the camp – Fateh, Hamas, Popular Front, organise meal times so that everyone gets a turn with the cup and plate to eat and drink. Several of the people he talks to were arrested simply on suspicion. Israeli law allowed them to be held without charge while evidence was compiled, with his captors returning to court over and over again to request a few more days more, until the judge finally listens to their lawyer, has the procedure stopped and the prisoner released. He also shows how the prisoners were tortured through beatings, being forced to stand for hours with bags over their heads, a process permitted under Israel law. A judge ruled that torture could not be used, but what methods were to replace them were kept secret. So many Palestinians have been incarcerated, that a green identity card showing a man has been in jail is a matter of pride. And not to have been to prison correspondingly is a mark of shame.

He talks about how the Israelis have a deliberate policy of not allowing the Palestinians to industrialise, so that they compete with the Israel. The State has also put obstacles in place to prevent Palestinian farmers competing with Israelis. They also deliberately uproot the olive trees many Palestinians grow to support themselves. The Israelis also appropriate most of the water, and dig deeper wells, so that the Palestinians have a much poorer water supply and their own wells are becoming increasingly saline. As a result, unemployment in Gaza was at 40 per cent. And Sacco himself was approached several times by Palestinians, hoping he could do something so that they could leave and go abroad to study or find work.

He describes a school, without electricity, as well as a school for the deaf, which is supported through volunteers and whose staff complain of their lack of training for dealing with people with disabilities. He also hears and illustrates the story of one Palestinian woman, whose son was shot by Israeli soldiers, but was prevented from taking him directly to hospital. Instead she was ordered to go hither and thither, where she was told a helicopter was waiting to take her and the boy. When she gets there, there is no helicopter. She eventually takes him to the hospital herself in a car, by which time it’s too late and the lad dies.

The book also shows the mass of roadblocks and the permit system which Palestinians have to go through to go to Israel. At the same time, Israelis are simply allowed to whiz through in their separate lanes.

Sacco also doesn’t shy away from showing the negative side of Palestine – the anti-Semitism, and particularly infamous murders, like the killing of Klinghoffer aboard the Achille Lauro, and the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team by the terrorist group Black September. This can turn into support for the murder of Israeli civilians. There’s also a chapter on the plight of Palestinian women, This is a society where women are still very much treated as inferiors and subordinates, where honour killings are carried out as the punishment for female adultery. It is also a society where collaborators are murdered, and those, who belong to the wrong faction may also be shot and killed.

The book was written 27 years ago, but nothing really seems to have changed since then. The illegal settlements are still there and expanding. Settlers are still seizing Palestinian homes and property, the apartheid separating Israelis from Palestinians is still in place, unemployment is still high, and Palestinians are still being treated as foreigners, refugees and second-class citizens on their own land.

However, some attitudes are changing. The Israeli liberals Sacco talks to only support the Palestinians up to a point. When pressed, some of them will say that Israel should keep the Occupied Territories, because they seized them in war. Or that they need to keep them for security reasons. But an increasing number of young Jews in America and elsewhere are appalled at the continuing maltreatment of the Palestinians and are becoming increasingly critical and hostile to Israel because of this. And there have also grown up major opposition groups like the human rights organisation B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence in Israel.

The Israeli state and its lobby and supporters in this country and others are increasingly scared. It’s why they’re trying to pass laws to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in America, and to outlaw criticism of Israel in this country through tortuous definitions of anti-Semitism that are stretched to include it. It’s why they’re smearing, with the connivance of the right-wing media, the Blairites in the Labour party, and the Conservatives, decent people, who have fought racism and anti-Semitism, as anti-Semites.

Very long, detailed books have been written about Israel’s brutal treatment, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Sacco’s Palestine presenting this as graphic novel, is an example of how comics can also be serious literature, tackling a difficult subject with both narrative and artistic skill and style. I’ve mentioned on this blog before the alternative comics that were also published from the ’60s to the 1980s/1990s on political topics, including the Israeli maltreatment of Palestinians in Pat Mills’ Crisis. Palestine is very much in that tradition, and in 1996 won the American Book Award.