Over a two-day period just outside Beirut in September 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese militiamen slaughtered up to 3,500 Palestinian refugees and Lebanese civilians in what became known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Pregnant women were stabbed in the stomach; fetuses were ripped out. Children had their throats cut; young men were lined up and shot in the back.
Israel’s military provided logistical support throughout the slaughter, which took place three months after the apocalyptic Israeli invasion of Lebanon that had been green-lit by the United States.
So it wasn’t the most appropriate timing in the world when, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre this month, Disney’s Marvel Studios announced that their movie, Captain America: New World Order, would be released in 2024, would have an Israeli character called Sabra. This little-known character made his Marvel Comics debut in the 1980s as “superheroine from the state of Israel,” and will be played by Israeli actress Shira Haas.
And even if her name isn’t a reference to the massacre in Lebanon, the whole thing is still super problematic.
Consider Sabra’s backstory. In issue #256 of The Incredible Hulk, published in 1981, she appears as a kibbutz-raised superhuman mutant who holds down a day job as an Israeli police officer, but whose real gig is with the country’s spy agency, the Mossad. Dressed in an Israeli flag-inspired costume, Sabra is “determined to preserve her homeland from the ravages of the Hulk,” as one of the comic’s captions tells us.
Let go of Israel’s leading role in ravaging other people’s homelands, starting with the very birth of the state in 1948, when some 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed, more than 10,000 Palestinians were killed, and at least three quarters of a million more were made refugees in their own lands. land.
Since Israel’s flair for ethnic cleansing and massacre hasn’t exactly abated over the past 74 years – just look at the ongoing terrorization of the Gaza Strip – bringing a character donning the mantle of a superhero to the screen is all wrong . the savagery of the state.
Although the plot details of Captain America: New World Order have not been revealed, many see the film as a PR coup for the Mossad, an outfit known for extrajudicial killings and all sorts of other misdeeds. To date, the agency has received plenty of favorable screen time, from The Spy on Netflix to Apple TV’s Tehran. Now Marvel has elevated the Mossad up a level to full-blooded superhero status.
CNN quotes Avner Avraham – a former Israeli spy who currently describes himself as a “world-renowned expert on Mossad operations” as well as an “exhibition and film producer and curator” – on how Sabra will facilitate the agency’s “branding” with younger audience: “This is the ‘TikTok’ way, the cartoon way of talking to the new generation.” Avraham also speculates that such marketing may make it easier for Mossad to recruit sources abroad.
Alas, just when you thought pop culture might be headed in a slightly more human direction with the likes of the new Netflix series Mo and Marvel’s own Ms Marvel, leave it to Hollywood to drag us back to the, um, “new world order”.
Admittedly, Israel’s approach to the Palestinians is already often cinematic – from blowing up apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip to launching airstrikes against children playing soccer on the beach. So cinematic, in fact, that bombardments of the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave have been known to draw Israeli crowds with camping chairs and popcorn.
Sabra’s audience appeal remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume that the character will help give Israeli crimes a veneer of feminist progressivism à la Gal Gadot, the former Israeli soldier and diehard military fan who starred in, among other things, Wonder Woman 1984, provocatively holdings.
In issue 256 of The Incredible Hulk, a footnote explains that the word sabra “denotes a native Israeli, the name derived from a native form of fruit – a prickly pear with a sweet interior and a thorny outer surface to protect it from its enemies”.
Of course, Israel’s national mythology rests on the idea that Israelis are somehow “indigenous” to the land. However, as a 2014 Times of Israel dispatch specifies, the Hebrew word for prickly pear “comes from the Arabic term, learned by Polish immigrants when they first encountered the plant”. The New York Times Crossword Stumper defines sabra as “a Jewish person born in Israel”, but emphasizes that the term is “related to the Arabic word sabr, which means patience and endurance”.
And according to Oz Almog’s book, The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew, the Sabras were “the first Israelis – the first generation, born in the 1930s and 1940s, who grew up in the Zionist settlement in Palestine”. How is it for natives?
The moral of the story, in short, is that on top of all the Mossad and military stuff, the superheroine Sabra also represents a multidimensional Israeli occupation of Palestine that is at once territorial and linguistic.
For those who like their Zionism with a side of popcorn, Marvel’s latest offering is sure to be a treat.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.