Sharing a very personal account of his own incarceration at the hands of the Israeli occupation authorities, MEMO’s Palestinian political cartoonist, Mohammad Sabaaneh, offers us a glimpse into this harrowing and dehumanising experience in his graphic novel published last year, Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine.
Exploring topical themes such as freedom, oppression and the human will to endure and resist, Sabaaneh loosely depicts his own ordeal after his arrest in 2013 and subsequent five months imprisonment for “contact with a hostile organisation”, which turned out to be the publication of several of his cartoons in a book written by his brother, a member of the Hamas Movement, about Palestinian political prisoners.
In Power Born of My Dreams … while in solitary confinement, our protagonist, the author, is visited by a small bird, which makes a proposition – Sabaaneh puts pencil to paper while the bird brings the inmate stories from the outside, across occupied Palestine. Interestingly the artist’s depiction of the bird aptly resembles that of a video camera, given that the bird gathers and reports back on the grim stories describing the reality of Palestinian life.
In one such narration, we learn about the “massive, terrifying birds” flying over Gaza (drones), which locals refer to as Zanana, due to the incessant buzzing sound they give off. We read how the Zanana is an everyday menacing presence for the Gazans, including how it robs children of their childhood: “In the classroom the kids watch the Zanana rather than the teacher.”
The graphic novel contains Sabaaneh’s trademark black and white blend of expressionist and surrealist artwork with its Kafkaesque and exaggerated style depicting the emotive Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation which so often accompanies MEMO articles.
However, in Sabaaneh’s words this experience is also replicated within Israeli prisons: “They displace you from your prison cell … They move you from cell to cell … so that even in prison, you feel like a refugee.”
Following his arrest and interrogation in the occupied-West Bank after returning from a trip to Jordan, and being held in the notorious Al-Jalameh detention centre before being transferred to an Israeli prison in the southern Negev (Naqab) region, (a “humiliating and tormenting” process Sabaaneh describes as “the Postage”), he began sketching in his cell, with paper and pens he would appropriate from his interrogators. “My pages became a way to journey out into the universe,” Sabaaneh writes.
Despite the intentional depressing tone throughout, the purpose of these stories is to give us, the reader, an insight into these daily struggles faced by the Palestinians and for them, in turn, to gain strength from them, to remain steadfast and to not give up on life or the homeland.
“Caged men and caged birds are the same. Our power is born from the dreams of freedom,” is the inspirational message the bird instils to his imprisoned companion.