Joe Sacco

Political cartoons aren’t generally reported from the front lines, but Portland’s Joe Sacco is an important exception. Beginning with his strip Palestine (collected in 2001), he’s been exploring the violent history of the Middle East. In his latest, Footnotes in Gaza (Metropolitan, $29.95), he ventures back a half century, to when Israel was brand-new and the notion of Palestinians as a distinct nationality didn’t exist. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, two refugee settlements near the Egyptian border were invaded by Israeli troops hunting for militants. Britain, France, and the U.S. looked the other way, being preoccupied with Nasser and the canal, while possibly 275 male refugees—by Sacco’s count—were massacred in Khan Younis and Rafah. His historical research during 2002-03, when Rachel Corrie’s death is noted, is undoubtedly colored by events of the present. Sacco’s sympathies are clearly with the Palestinians: He sketches their suffering, not their suicide bombers. But the value of his book is to communicate how their present misery—in Gaza especially—is rooted in political calculations of the past. Gaza was a problem first punted by Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, and more recently Israel, when it withdrew its settlers. Flip from one of Sacco’s panels, refugee mud huts in 1956, to the next, cinder-block towers arranged in the same “temporary” grid 50 years later, and the international community’s inaction begins to look like a slow form of murder. BRIAN MILLER

Wed., Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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