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“How to Survive a Shooting” chronicled Stingley’s story: coping with the loss of her daughter, being a loving mother to her two sons, and becoming an anti-violence activist in the face of apparent apathy. In a sense, it was a dismayingly familiar narrative—in a city plagued by violence, we’ve heard similar tales before. But Holliday and Rodriguez sought to bring the story to life through their choice of format: “comics journalism,” the shorthand term for reported nonfiction told through sequential art.

They nailed it. Stingley’s words, rendered alongside Rodriguez’s illustrations, are heartbreaking in a way few written articles or even videos achieve; a panel about her being woken from a dream about her slain daughter by the barking of the family dog is indelible. The piece received tons of attention, and eventually snagged a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia in the category, “Outside-the-Box: Innovation/Format Buster.”

“I’ve written a whole lot of crime stories, you know. People would usually give it like 20 seconds to scan it,” Holliday says. “But package it up with the comics, and it’s like you’ve never heard it before. The same people will read the story all the way to the end. It can become that bridge.”

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[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub blog.]

The information war being fought over Gaza is one of the most commented-on aspects of the current crisis – Israeli military footageTwitter updates, Facebook groups, media interviews, blogs, the use of megaphone software like GIYUS.  It’s not a new phenomenon, but the extent to which Israel’s government has made bypassing, controlling and marginalising the media, and using YouTube and other platforms to disseminate core messages a central part of its information strategies is unprecedented.

On the Palestinian side, it seems to be happening in a more decentralised way: emailed photographs of injured or dead children, video documentation and interviews from within Gaza and from solidarity events around the world, but not on the scale or coordinated nature of Israel’s media strategy, as discussed in this Al Jazeera interview with Dan Gillerman, about Israel’s media strategy:

Both sides, of course, are provoking comment over errors and misinformation based on visual material.  But this, and the exceptional level of message control and coordination, serve to saturate new media as well as news media with polarising talking points – and takes us further and further from the daily reality of life on either side.  The work of organisations like B’Tselem to document daily, mundane, individual human rights abuses, and to ensure that these reach the sphere of public debate in Israel and internationally is a crucial part of this – here’s Oren Yakobovich on their Shooting Back project in Hebron.

But as we discovered in our recent UDHR60 project, images that open our eyes to human rights don’t have to be videos or photographs.  For me personally, some of the most striking, intimate and revealing images of the daily routine of human rights abuses faced by Palestinians are not of graphic human rights abuses, or of military successes – they come from a comic by Maltese-American journalist, Joe Sacco (whose latest book, Footnotes on Gaza, is due out imminently).

I felt the American media had really misportrayed the situation [between Israel and the Palestinians] and I was really shocked by that.

I grew up thinking of Palestinians as terrorists, and it took a lot of time, and reading the right things, to understand the power dynamic in the Middle East was not what I had thought it was…
[…]

There are two ways in which Palestinians are portrayed – as terrorist and as victim.  There may be truth in certain situations for both descriptions, but Palestinians are also people going to school, who have families, have lives, invite you into their home, and think about their food.

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