Jerusalem is the frontline and a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recent years, comic artists have turned their attention to the Middle East, including the ‘Holy City’. Scholars, however, have yet to study how comics engage with life in Jerusalem, in particular the relationships between Arabs and Jews. In this article, I will take on this critical oversight and explore how Mira Friedman’s ‘Independence Day’ (2008), Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2010) and Miriam Libicki’s Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army (2008) engage with the complicated social situation. The philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas, has argued that face-to-face encounters are the basis for recognizing the Other as human and for feeling responsibility towards him or her.1 In this article I show that we rarely see the Other’s face in the corpus of the Jewish comic artists I discuss here. Instead, the Arab presence is brought into the texts by way of urban elements such as the Dome of the Rock, media remediations or indistinct, distant figures. This highlights that comics are closely tied into the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians, where fear and separation rule to a level where the Arab Other – whether Christian or Muslim – of the Jews of Jerusalem is almost invisible.
‘Contested spaces in graphic narrative’ argues that spatiality in graphic narratives is conducive to restructuring fraught landscapes. Through an exploration of the contested homelands of the Israeli Palestinian conflict in Miriam Libicki’s Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army (2008), this article argues that graphic narratives have a unique ability to depict geographical spaces through lines, panels and various artistic devices. Like maps, such lines and boxes on a page physically create borders and represent corresponding location as bounded; they may represent existing political divisions, or they may subvert and push state-drawn boundaries. These devices within the graphic form open up a recognition of the ways that boundaries obfuscate the multifaceted representations of identity that include multiple nationalisms, ideological discontinuities, as well as human-centred spatial connections. Graphic form, then, becomes a landscape that allows for a complex visual understanding of affective attachment to the state through possibilities of graphic, bordered texts that cut across traditional understandings of territoriality and occupation. Libicki’s status as an outsider and as a woman in the Israel Defense Forces emphasizes her position of precarity in traditional conceptions of the Biblical Jewish homeland as well as in Israel, the modern Jewish state.
The works of both Matalon and Govrin offer an unusual aesthetic, ethical, and female option, in regard to the questions of territory and sovereignty. In choosing the rhizome model, in which nomads create open spaces, throw bridges over borders, and enable flexibility in the subject’s never-ending becoming, both authors provide a revolutionary angle on representations of the Israeli society, the Occupation and the Intifada in Israeli literature. Because of the revolutionary nature of their gaze, and its implication, which threaten the core of political and gendered power, this option is doomed to failure. And so alongside the radical option, these works also propose a realistic view that portrays how the female and ethical alternative is crushed and threatened with violence. Ultimately, the release of sovereignty and possession cannot succeed in a place where men thirst for war, a place where weapons persist on assaulting Jerusalem again and again, rather than leave it fallow.