How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Writer / Artist
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Vertigo - 978-1-4012-2234-5
  • Release date: 2010
  • UPC: 9781401222345
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Sarah Glidden’s educational exploration has an alluring title for anyone puzzled over the Israeli and Palestinian enmity, but doesn’t quite live up to it, so it may be sardonic. She approached the topic as a novice, rapidly immersed herself in it, and culminated with a birthright trip to Israel, which is the starting point of these recollections. The birthright trip is funded by donors to enable those with a Jewish background to visit Israel via a guided tour.

Carrying no strong religious convictions, Glidden lives a secular life, and arrives in Israel with some preconceptions, particularly regarding oppression of Palestinians who share the land. This attitude renders her a square peg in a round hole among the other group members, most of whom are depicted as less politically aware. They range from the unquestioning who accept everything they’re told at face value to those with a greater understanding of matters who realise there is no black and white. If that comes across as parroting regime apologists, then welcome to the complex world of Israeli/Palestinian politics.

The more she learns, the more Glidden becomes conflicted, a painful process for her, but where the book is at its best. She’s honest about her own insecurities and self-aware enough to understand the world doesn’t march to her tune, yet combats the realities of others. It’s a theme recurring in the works of other comic creators who’ve produced books on the same topic. Once in country, her viewpoint is very much informed by those born in Israel or those who’ve settled there, and arriving sympathetic toward the Palestinians it’s notable that Glidden’s actual contact with them is minimal. Is it that she doesn’t want her preconceptions contradicted? This is hinted at without being confirmed.

Interestingly the book is “suggested for mature readers”. There’s no sexual content, no swearing, and the average Punisher graphic novel presents far more violence, here all historical. Perhaps Vertigo considered the simple watercolour art might suggest this as a simpler book. The art may be off-putting. It’s sketchy, flat, and limited, with only chapter breaks not conforming to a grid system. People are identifiable more by their clothing and accoutrements than by character, and there are occasions when it’s difficult to figure out some significance. One is where Glidden picks up what appears to be a stone and studies it.

Sixty days spent in Israel brought Glidden no closer to understanding the situation she wanted to investigate, and if anything, despite arriving well-informed via reading (rather than experience), she departs with more questions than she had in the first place. So will the reader. For the curious she supplies a further reading bibliography.