JAPs, Jocks, & Activists

February 4, 2011 | By

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On the first page of this new graphic autobiography, Sarah Glidden is packing for her imminent Birthright Israel trip. More specifically, she’s asking Jamil, her Muslim boyfriend, whether he thinks it’s a good idea to bring her books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “You’ll be too busy seeing the real thing to have time to read about it,” he says. Reluctantly, she agrees.

In the bulkily-titled but very-readable How to Understand Israel in Sixty Days or Less, Glidden explores–with simple drawings, easygoing humor, and an unforgiving eye–both Birthright Israel and Israel itself. She signs up thinking it’ll be easy to poke holes in the Israeli narrative of events. But, after visiting the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and seeing how easy it would be for the Syrian military to bomb the Hula Valley, she starts to rethink things.

Sarah is determined not to be swayed by propaganda, and she plays out several dialectics in her mind. In a courtroom scene, Glidden plays both the defense and prosecution, examining Israel’s right to exist; on a kibbutz, she jumps inside a photograph and debates Zionism with its founders. But nothing is clear-cut, and in a late-night phone call, Jamil accuses her of selling out.

Sarah doesn’t reach any definite conclusions. Neither does the book, which ends with her abrupt departure, without the West Bank visit that Sarah’s been determined to make. The story isn’t perfect, but it’s a passionate and conflicted view of Israel–and it’s unsettlingly real.

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