Over a two-day period just outside Beirut in September 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese militiamen massacred 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; the fetuses were torn out. The children had their throats slit; the young men were lined up and shot in the back.
The Israeli army provided logistical support throughout the butchery, which took place three months after the start of the doomsday Israeli invasion of Lebanon that had been greenlit by the United States.
So it wasn’t the most fitting moment 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 its movie, Captain America: New World Order, slated for release in 2024, would feature an Israeli character called Sabra. This little-known character got his start in Marvel Comics in the 1980s as “super heroine of the state of israeland will be played by Israeli actress Shira Haas.
And although its name does not refer 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 holding a day job as an Israeli police officer but whose real job is with the country’s spy agency , the Mossad. Decked out in a costume inspired by the Israeli flag, Sabra is “determined to save her homeland from the ravages of the Hulk,” as one of the comic’s captions tells us.
Regardless of Israel’s leading role in ravaging the homelands of other peoples, beginning with the very birth of this state in 1948, when some 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed, over 10,000 Palestinians were killed and at least three-quarters of a million more have become refugees in their own country. ground.
Given that Israel’s flair for ethnic cleansing and massacres hasn’t exactly diminished over the past 74 years – just look at the ongoing terror in the Gaza Strip – it is entirely wrong to present on the big screen a character who puts on a state savagery superheroine cape.
Although plot details for Captain America: New World Order have not been revealed, many see the film as a public relations stunt for the Mossad, an outfit notorious 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 Tehran on Apple TV. Now, Marvel has elevated the Mossad to full superhero status.
CNN quotes Avner Avraham – a former Israeli spy who currently calls himself a “world-renowned expert in Mossad operations” as well as an “exhibition and film producer and curator” – on how Sabra will facilitate the ” branding” of the agency with young audiences: “It’s the ‘TikTok’ way, the cartoon way of talking to the new generation.” Avraham also speculates that such marketing could make it easier for the Mossad to recruit overseas sources.
Alas, just when you thought pop culture might be heading in a slightly more human direction with the likes of new Netflix series Mo and Marvel’s own Ms. Marvel, let Hollywood take us back to the “new world order.” .
To be sure, 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 football on the beach. So cinematic, in fact, that bombardments of the beleaguered Palestinian coastal enclave have been known to attract Israeli crowds with camping chairs and popcorn.
Sabra’s appeal remains to be seen, but presumably the character will help lend a veneer of feminist progressiveness to Israeli crimes a la Gal Gadot, the former Israeli soldier and die-hard military fan who starred in Wonder Woman 1984. , among other nausea-causing exploits.
In issue 256 of The Incredible Hulk, a footnote explains that the word sabra “denotes a native-born Israeli, the name derived from an indigenous form of fruit – a prickly pear possessing a sweet interior and a thorny outer surface to protect him from his enemies”.
Of course, the national mythology of Israel is based on the idea that Israelis are somehow “natives” to the land. But as a 2014 Times of Israel dispatch clarified, the Hebrew word for prickly pear “comes from the Arabic term, learned by Polish immigrants when they came across the plant.” The New York Times Crossword Stumper defines sabra as “a Jewish person born in Israel,” but points out that the term is “related to the Arabic word sabr, which means patience and perseverance.”
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, to grow up in the Zionist colony in Palestine.” How’s that for the natives?
The moral of the story, in short, is that in addition to all the Mossad and military stuff, the superheroine Sabra also represents a multifaceted Israeli occupation of Palestine that is both 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 opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.