Sacco Conveys the Everyday Experiences of Palestinians

Graphic artist Joe Sacco conveys the everyday experiences of Palestinians in Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza

Joe Sacco, a cartoonist, “grew up thinking of Palestinians as terrorists” (Khalifa). He eventually did his own research to fill in the gaps and decided he wanted to share his new awareness with others through his art. Sacco launched this effort through two graphic novels on Palestine, both featuring a journalistic portrayal of events accompanied by vivid dialogue and skilled black and white renderings. The first, Palestine, details the everyday lives of regular Palestinians and the second, Footnotes in Gaza, investigates and presents the 1956 massacres at Khan Younis and Rafah which “happened more than half a century ago, stirred up little international attention, and were forgotten outside the immediate circle of the victims.” (Cockburn)

Illustration From “Footnotes in Gaza”
Illustration From “Footnotes in Gaza”

Sacco describes his thorough investigation into the everyday lives of Palestinians with Alex Kane at and in an interview at AlJazeera. He was also featured in the New York Times shortly after Footnotes in Gaza was released.

Sacco’s reasons for investigating the stories of the Palestinians are conveyed in his conversation with Al Jazeera:

I grew up thinking of Palestinians as terrorists, and it took a lot of time, and reading the right things, to understand the power dynamic in the Middle East was not what I had thought it was… And basically, it upset me enough that I wanted to go, and, in a small way, give the Palestinians a voice – a lens through which people could see their lives.

There are two ways in which Palestinians are portrayed – as terrorist and as victim.

There may be truth in certain situations for both descriptions, but Palestinians are also people going to school, who have families, have lives, invite you into their home, and think about their food.

I’m deeply saddened by what’s going on there … I was appalled by what was going on and went to see what I could do. I was compelled to go and do these stories, as this was the only form of solidarity that I could offer from within me. (Khalifa)

After his initial foray into discovering Palestine, Sacco researched the 1956 massacres in the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah, mainly due to the lack of any historical accounts in English. He discovered that these two events may be the “building blocks of history” (Cockburn) despite their relative unknown nature. The New York Times demonstrates brilliantly the effect these events left on the Palestinians:

Governments and the news media alike forget that atrocities live on in the memory of those most immediately affected. Sacco records Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi — a leader of Hamas (later killed by an Israeli missile), who in 1956 was 9 and living in Khan Younis — describing how his uncle was killed: “It left a wound in my heart that can never heal,” he says. “I’m telling you a story and I am almost crying. . . . They planted hatred in our hearts.” (Cockburn)

An interview with Alex Kane of reveals Sacco’s motives for this type of work. Throughout the interview, the reader can find not only photos and cartoons of Sacco, but also his ideas on justice and why it is important to understand not only the Israeli, but also the Palestinian side of this conflict.

AK [Alex Kane]: So, is there something about Gaza, Palestine, or in general, intense political struggles that inspires you to do the type of comic journalism that you do?

JS [Joe Sacco]: Well to me it’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of seeing–you know, I’ve read a fair amount of history, I understand what happened to the Jewish people in Europe that had been going on for centuries, actually, when you look at it. I have a fair understanding of what happened to the Jews, and I can sort of appreciate their feelings about their place in the world. To me, it’s about looking at something else, too: What happened to Palestinians? What’s been going on to them? And to me it’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of understanding, also, what they’ve gone through, and I think it’s important for people to appreciate what they’ve gone through, and to look at this as a matter of justice. I’m not attracted to conflict per se. It’s what happens to people in these sorts of situations, you know when there’s a political impasse, and it’s trying to understand what that impasse is about. (Kane)

Check out Palestine or Footnotes in Gaza for a thorough (and graphic) understanding of not only the everyday lives of Palestinians today, but of their modern history as well. Aljazeera, the New York Times and have excellent articles on his work, which is available here (Palestine) and here (Footnotes in Gaza) on Amazon.

For further insight, view this clip of an interview in which Sacco discusses how his works on Palestine came about and what the creative process entailed:


  • Cockburn, Patrick. “‘They Planted Hatred in Our Hearts’.”New York Times, 24 Dec 2009, n. pag. Web. 16 Oct. 2013..
  • Kane, Alex. “‘A matter of justice’: Joe Sacco on the Suez war, Gaza, and his future work.”, 21 Dec 2011, n. pag. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
  • Khalifa, Omar. “Joe Sacco on Palestine.” Al Jazeera, 19 Jul 2008, n. pag. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.


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