Joe Sacco's Palestine: Some Unanswered Questions
By Bryan Caplan
Last year, I bought The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, which in turn led me to buy dozens of its recommendations. I’d like to blog virtually every one, but only a handful have enough social science to review at EconLog. One of these few is Joe Sacco’s Palestine. It’s an autobiographical graphic novel about the journalist’s time in Gaza and the West Bank. Most of the pages revolve around Sacco’s sympathetic interviews with scores of Palestinians.
If your instant reaction is, “What about interviews with Israelis?,” Palestine‘s got a scene just for you. When he explains his project to two Israeli women, one asks, “Shouldn’t you be seeing our side of the story, too?,” Sacco responds with voice-over: “And what can I say? I say I’ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most all my life…” Growing up in the U.S., that sounds about right.
So what can we learn from Sacco’s book? Despite his focus on the Palestinian side of the story, we see that collective guilt is a double-edged sword. The Israelis inflict harsh collective punishment on the Palestinians to retaliate for the terrorism of a tiny minority. Most of the Palestinians respond by openly sympathizing with the terrorists, and dreaming of inflicting harsh collective punishment on the Israelis. Sacco doesn’t sugarcoat this: Even his mellower subjects occasionally hiss that “The Jews are dogs.” He leaves little doubt that if the Palestinians managed to get the upper hand, they’d exact a terrible revenge.
My main complaint about the book is that Sacco rarely asks his subjects the really hard questions. Here are a few I would have posed… if my physical safety were assured:
1. You’re too weak to beat the Israelis. Why don’t you just submit? (And if they responded, “Would you?,” I’d say “I already do. I think taxation is theft, but I also have the wisdom to realize that the IRS will make my life a living hell if I resist.”)
2. The Israelis could easily have killed or exiled every Palestinian. Why didn’t they? What does that say about their objective function – and/or the objection functions of other Western countries that put pressure on Israel?
3. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. What would greater Palestine’s GDP per capita be ten years from now? Want to bet on that?
4. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. How many Palestinians would still die violent deaths during the next ten years? How many political prisoners will there be in ten years? Want to bet on that?
I realize, of course, that these are insensitive questions to ask someone who spent years in an Israeli prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But I’d still like some honest answers. Care to enlighten me?