Jerusalem: Guy Delisle's Adventures in the Holy City

I've reviewed quite a few of French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle's memoir comics before, and I have of late been very interested in Israel and Palestine, so a Guy Delisle comic about Israel and Palestine (more specifically East Jerusalem and the West Bank) was not something I was going to pass up. Now having read it, it was certainly fascinating, although there were some elements of Israeli society that I wish Delisle had explored.

I do realize the unfairness of that previous statement, of course. Delisle can only write about what he himself experienced, and the conclusions he drew from it. It would have been nice, however, if he would have been able to comment on the secular Jewish elements in Israel, as a reader of this volume might be mistaken in believing that Israel is only populated with Haredim, gruff IDF soldiers, and restive Palestinians. Delisle's relative unfamiliarity with Judaism (a particularly egregious example being his referring to Passover as "Jewish Easter") also hurts his ability to really understand the Israeli culture that surrounds him.

However, "Jerusalem" does much better when talking about Palestine and the Palestinians, which he is exposed to thanks to living in an Arabic neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and interacting with Palestinians through his partner Nadege's work with Medecins Sans Frontieres (otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders). He is able to aptly capture the constant insults and frustrations these people have to endure under Israeli regimes, and his interaction with Palestinians in the West Bank really emphasizes how little of the territory they actually control, how they feel trapped in the minuscule PA-administered towns (whose sovereignty is constantly violated by IDF raids). He also is very good at capturing the harassment he and other expats occasionally encountered from Israeli security, such as the fact that he always found himself extensively searched while attempting to fly into Israel when he mentioned his partner worked in Gaza.

In addition, Delisle turns out to have been in the ideal right place and time to document Operation Cast Lead, the punishing three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Delisle shows the panic in the offices of MSF and other NGOs as they try to scramble to provide medical assistance to injured civilians, only to have to get creative in order to actually get into Gaza without being shot by either side. He also describes the harrowing TV reports he witnesses, and the confusion and terror in Israel as people have no idea how big this conflict will get. This is probably one of the most interesting parts of the book.

I also liked how Delisle is able to document Israel and Palestine's Christian communities, from the many competing sects that each control a piece of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the German Catholic priest who ends up being one of Delisle's fast friends who allows him to use the backroom of his church as a studio. The Christian community of the region is rarely mentioned in discussions like these, and it was certainly very interesting to see them featured so prominently. His documenting of the Samaritan community in the West Bank was also fascinating.

All in all, this is a very extensive depiction of a year in Jerusalem. Anyone at all interested in the region should definitely check it out.

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