Connections lead to understanding. Connections lead to a break down in the beliefs and myths that keep us separated. Connections bridge the chasms that exist between us. However, one must be open to these connections. If one is not open, then no matter what connections a person makes, they will always succumb to the myths and fears that reside within one’s brain. In Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, Guy Delisle details the year he spent in Jerusalem and Israel with his family. Throughout, Delisle highlights the diversity of Jerusalem and shines a light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At its core, Delisle’s graphic memoir points out that connections must be made in order for barriers to crumble.
In Jerusalem, Delisle provide numerous anecdotes about his time in the Holy City, and these anecdotes vary in theme. Yet, one recurring theme is that of connections. Delisle makes a point over the course of the memoir to remind readers about the physical barriers that exist in Israel, physical walls that separate the Palestinian territories from Israel. Delisle constantly sketches these brutalist concrete barriers that dot the landscape, and most of the time, a soldier comes by and tells him to stop drawing and move along. These physical barriers also represent the psychological chasms between individuals, psychological barriers that separate them and hinder them from learning more about one another.
In one sequence, Delisle shows that people learn and imbibe these barriers; they are not erected in one’s life at birth; they must rise up as one grows. This fact becomes clear in the sequence “At the Playground.” Delisle, in the three-page sequence, depicts two distinct anecdotes. The first is a story his wife, Nadége who works for Doctors Without Borders, tells him about crossing the checkpoint in Gaza. There, the guards shouted at them to get away as they pointed their guns at a woman with her veil and robe. The soldiers commanded the woman to remove her veil and robe because they suspected she was carrying a suicide bomb, even though no suicide attacks had occurred in years.
Nadége finishes her story by telling her husband, “And people think it could start again anytime.” This statement causes Delisle to state, “That’s reassuring” before their son asks, “What’s going to start again?” Delisle changes the direction of the conversation, telling his son they were talking about the rainy season. Within this moment, Delisle’s son does not know about the colonialist practices that led to the guards stopping the woman. He does not know about the hate and fear that exists. Delisle skirts this discussion, sparing his son from such facts. However, in doing so, does Delisle do his son a disservice? I ask this because even though Delisle and his family are not Israeli or Palestinian they exist within the space. His son probably knows Muslim and Jewish children, and by not discussing these issues, where does his son learn about them?
The next section of this sequence occurs at the playground that the family sees on their way home. It becomes a spot where Delisle takes the kids to play. This section encompasses seven panels on a page. The first shows Nadége and Delisle watching kids play on the slide as Delisle narrates, “There’s a nice cross-section of Jerusalemite society in the park.” He follows this with two panels that depict “Orthodox Jewish moms,” “Secular Jewish moms,” and “Muslim moms.” Within these two panels, Delisle notes the religious affiliation of each group, and he also points out the relationship each has to their children. Each are moms, linking them together through their connection with their children.
The next panel, in the middle of the page, shows the kids climbing together on the slide, and Delisle narrates, “The kids mix easily.” With this panel, Delisle drives home the fact that kids do not come into the world with hate; they enter into the world without knowing about the barriers individuals have created between others. Instead, they enter into the world connecting with one another. The barriers rise up, over time, as they become inculcated in whatever society they reside within. This inculcation envelops them, causing them to shut out those who they have learned to fear. Yet, the kids’ presence and ability to connect so easily shows through in the mothers.
Delisle follows the panel with the kids playing with a wordless panel that shows each of the mothers–Orthodox Jew, Secular Jew, and Muslim–talking together. With this, and the panel that follows where him and Nadége look at the scene and he narrates, “and sometimes the adults do too.” Delisle shows that more connects us than separates us, yet those things that we have taken within ourselves that erect the walls prove hard to dismantle. The final panel shows Delisle pushing his daughter on the swing, flanked by the two Jewish mothers pushing their children. None of them speak. They just stand silently behind their kids as they push the children higher into the air.
Delisle primes us for such scenes from the very start of the narrative. Before he even introduces us to why he and his family travel to Jerusalem, he begins with a sequence titled “Takeoff” which depicts him sitting next to his daughter Alice on the plane to Israel. Alice will not stop crying, and in the fourth panel, the man who sits next to them picks her up to calm her down. She takes to the man, who is Russian, and she relaxes, laughing as he throws her up and down. Delisle notices the tattoo on his arm, from a concentration camp, and his mind begins to race.
The fact that the man is a Holocaust survivor, while important, is not the key to this sequence. The key comes at the end when Delisle shows the plane, soaring above the clouds, and narrates, “But I’m treated to a whole other picture tonight, as this old Russian plays with my daughter thousands of feet up in the sky.” This assertion, followed by the final panel of the sequence which depicts the man swinging a smiling Alice in the air, shows the connections between Delisle, Alice, and the man. The human connection. The connection of their shared existence. Not the nationalistic barriers of France and Russia. Not the barriers of religion. The connection of being alive, experiencing the same things, living life.
These themes show up again and again in Delisle’s Jerusalem. Next post, I’ll look at a couple of more sections. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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