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Why Marvel’s Mossad superheroine Sabra is all kinds of wrong | Israel-Palestine conflict

Over a period of two days 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; foetuses 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 butchery, which occurred three months into the apocalyptic Israeli invasion of Lebanon that had been green-lit by the United States.

So it was not 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 its film, Captain America: New World Order, slated for release in 2024, would feature an Israeli character called Sabra. This little-known character made her Marvel Comics debut in the 1980s as the “super heroine of the state of Israel,” and will be played by Israeli actress Shira Haas.

And while her name is not 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 holding down a day job as an Israeli police officer but whose real gig is with the country’s spy agency, Mossad. Decked out 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 informs us.

Never mind Israel’s starring role in ravaging other people’s homelands, starting with that state’s very birth 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 land.

Since Israel’s flair for ethnic cleansing and massacres hasn’t exactly abated over the past 74 years – just look at the ongoing terrorisation of the Gaza Strip – it is all kinds of wrong to bring to the silver screen a character who puts a superheroine’s cape on state savagery.

While the plot details of Captain America: New World Order have not been revealed, many see the film as a public relations coup for Mossad, an outfit known for extrajudicial assassinations and all manner of other misdeeds. To date, the agency has received plenty of favourable screen time, from The Spy on Netflix to Apple TV’s Tehran. Now, Marvel has bumped Mossad up a level to full-blown superhero status.

CNN quotes Avner Avraham – a former Israeli spy who currently self-defines as a “world-renowned expert in Mossad operations” as well as an “exhibition and films producer and curator” – on how Sabra will facilitate the agency’s “branding” with younger audiences: “This is the ‘TikTok’ way, the cartoon way to talk 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 heading 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 yank us back to the, um, “new world order”.

Granted, Israel’s approach to the Palestinians is already often cinematic – from blowing up apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip to launching air strikes against children playing football 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 crowd appeal remains to be seen, but it’s safe to surmise the character will help endow Israeli crimes with a veneer of feminist progressivism à la Gal Gadot, the former Israeli soldier and diehard military fan who starred in Wonder Woman 1984, among other nausea-provoking 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 possessed of a sweet interior, and a spiny 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. But 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 came upon the plant”. The New York Times Crossword Stumper defines sabra as “a Jewish person who was born in Israel” but underscores 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 settlement in Palestine”. How’s that for indigenous?

The moral of the story, in short, is that on top of all the Mossad and military stuff, 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 certain to be a treat.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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Voting ends in Bosnia election set to bring little change

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Polls have closed Sunday in Bosnia’s general election in which voters chose their new leaders from among the long-established cast of sectarian candidates and their challengers who pledged to eradicate, if elected, corruption and clientelism in government.

Moments after vote count begun, Bosnia’s international overseer, Christian Schmidt, announced in a YouTube video that he was amending the country’s electoral law “to ensure functionality and timely implementation of election results.” Schmid assured citizens in the video that the changes “will in no way affect” the votes cast on Sunday for different levels of government that are part of one of the world’s most complicated institutional set-ups.

Bosnia’s power-sharing system was agreed upon in a U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the brutal 1992-95 war between its three main ethnic groups – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats – by dividing the country into two highly independent entities. The entities — one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats – have broad autonomy but are linked by shared national institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups.

The agreement also gave broad powers to the international high representative, the post currently held by Schmidt, including the ability to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine the country’s fragile post-war ethnic balance.

The Sunday election included races for the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency; parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of the country’s Serb-run part.

The traditional ruling class was challenged in the election by parties which, despite ideological differences and sometimes clashing agendas, shared the campaign promise to eradicate patronage networks and sanction acts of corruption in government.

Analysts predicted the long-entrenched nationalists who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people were likely to remain dominant after the election despite deeply disappointing their constituents, largely because the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded Bosnians with little incentive to vote.

However, contenders vying to replace the nationalists on the country’s tripartite presidency and in the post of the president of its Serb-run part insisted the preliminary results indicated they were wining the vote.

Election turnout on Sunday was 50% or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

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Burkina Faso coup: Ousted military leader Damiba ‘resigns’ | Military News

Burkina Faso’s overthrown military chief agreed to step down two days after army officers announced his deposition in the country’s second coup in a year.

Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba “offered his resignation in order to avoid confrontations with serious human and material consequences”, according to a statement on Sunday by mediators.

Influential religious and community leaders held mediation talks between Damiba and the new self-proclaimed leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, to resolve the crisis.

“President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba proposed his own resignation in order to avoid clashes,” said Hamidou Yameogo, a spokesman for the mediation efforts.

Damiba set “seven conditions” for stepping down. They included a guarantee of security for his allies in the military, “a guarantee of his security and rights”, and assurance that those taking power will respect the pledge he gave to West Africa’s regional bloc for a return to civilian rule within two years.

Traore officially was named head of state after he accepted the conditions given by Damiba, calling on “the population to exercise calm, restraint and prayer”.

A statement issued on Sunday by the pro-Traore military said he would remain in charge “until the swearing-in of the president of Burkina Faso designated by the nation’s active forces” at an unspecified date.

The second change of leadership in a year started on Friday when military officers announced the deposition of Damiba, the dissolution of the transitional government and the suspension of the constitution.

Waving Russian flags

Damiba, who led a coup in January, said on Saturday that he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to “come to their senses”.

Tensions have been high in the country since Friday, with clashes occurring between protesters and security forces.

Late Saturday, angry protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou as they believed Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base” – allegations he and France denied. Burkina Faso is a former colony of France.

The French foreign ministry condemned “the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms” by “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us”.

In a statement broadcast on state television, new military spokesman Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho called on people to “desist from any act of violence and vandalism” especially those against the French embassy or the French military base.

To some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former colonizer France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight various armed groups.

Some who support the new coup leader Traore have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.

‘Deeply rooted crisis’

Traore promised to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight “extremists”. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup.

“Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once-peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leadership said, adding Damiba failed as more than 40 percent of the country remained outside government control.

The landlocked state of Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain rebel groups, including some associated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

Since 2015, the country has become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel region, where thousands of people have been killed and about two million displaced.

With much of the Sahel battling growing unrest, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

Conflict analysts say Damiba was probably too optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term, but a change at the top did not mean the country’s security situation would improve.

“The problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted,” said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Armed groups “will most likely continue to exploit” the country’s political disarray, he said.

 

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