Monday, May 22, 2017

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Hardcover, 336 pages Pub April 24th 2012 by Drawn and Quarterly (first published November 16th 2011) Orig Title Chroniques de Jérusalem ISBN13: 9781770460713 Edition Literary Awards Prix du Festival d'Angoulême for Fauve d’or du meilleur album (2012)

This is an appropriate time to take another look at Jerusalem, and Guy Delisle’s book can explain to you the in and outs of what U.S. President Trump is seeing while he is visiting.

Guy Delisle is a graphic artist who accompanies his wife, a Médecins Sans Frontières physician, to hotspots around the world. While in the past he has been able to work as an artist while overseas on assignment, every posting is different, and the one in Jerusalem did not lend itself as easily to sketching outside, teaching in universities, giving shows on his work, and concentrating on finishing his drawings in a systematic way.

The very thing that makes Delisle effective in his role as graphic artist and stay-at-home husband and dad also makes him a frustrating on-the-ground observer. He is almost resolutely non-partisan and non-political. When bombs start to fly in Operation Cast Lead over the holiday period Dec 27, 2008-January 16, 2009 he tells what he heard from his position at home, but he wasn’t interested in being an observer. He also wasn’t interested in interviewing settlers in Hebron when he was asked to do graphic reportage there.

By the end, however, I could see the value in his distanced, uninvolved view. He drew what he observed, without much editorializing. He drew the extreme care some security guards took in checkpoint and airport security work, the difficulties Palestinians had in getting around, working, living, and planning for the future, he drew the wall, and the pushing Palestinians out of their homes by settlers in the West Bank.

Delisle saw the sights Jerusalem had to offer, always on the lookout for interesting or peaceful places to bring his wife and children, or somewhere he could work uninterrupted. Eight months into a twelve-month tour, the pastor of the Lutheran church Augusta Victoria, on the Mount of Olives, offered Delisle a room in which to work. It was quiet and the only distractions were Delisle’s own thoughts, and a large organ which sent vibrations through his space. He found that he’d accustomed himself to grabbing the in-between moments in his hectic daily life, and the peacefulness of the church was made it more difficult for him to complete his projects, paradoxically.

Delisle spent many frames drawing the wall: “It’s graphically interesting,” he would explain. The wall through Jerusalem cut Palestinians off, in some cases, from their school, from their work, from their own land. What I particularly liked was his dividing the chapters by months of the year. Some months had considerable drama, but others reflected his dawning understanding about the situation and his learning to make up his own mind about what might be excusable behavior and what seemed like taking advantage.

Throughout the mostly black-and-white book, a map of Israel with the West Bank and Gaza drawn in chartreuse served to remind Delisle and readers that the amount of space allocated to Palestinians in Israel is very small, and Israeli settlers are pushing them away even still. The violent tactics and language the settlers use, the virulent criticism heaped upon the government and activists by the press, can be shocking to those of us who are not used to such extreme positions. “The vast majority of Israelis vigorously disapprove of the extreme behavior of the Hebron settlers.” It is hard not to respond with derision to statements like these, and it is hard to see that restraint is working to underline the urgency of the situation for Palestinians.

The currents of daily life are portrayed effectively by the end of this thick graphic novel (336 pages), and Delisle’s tone and lack of interest serve his purposes well. Despite his occasional missteps (when discussing Hasidic Jews, for instance), his intentional ignorance gives us and him the opportunity to look at the situation anew.

I ended up ordering Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and also his book Burma Chronicles. He has another, called Hostage, which debuted in English in 2017, translated from the French. Hostage tells the story of MSF employee Christophe André, who was captured in Russia’s North Caucasus in 1997 until he managed to escape months later. Public Radio International has a description here. From that link, we learn
”And the truly surprising end of the story is this: Just six months after he escaped, André showed up at Doctors Without Borders and asked for a new assignment. He stayed on with them for another 20 years.”

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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