One of the most wonderful things about fandoms is the ability to escape to new worlds. Characters can take you on journeys filled with powers, magic, and interdimensional travel. And, for 14 years, the MCU has been one of the most fun fandoms to be a part of, amassing millions of fans who are caught up in its universe. Recently, many fans found themselves facing their grim reality through this world with Marvel’s announcement that a new hero would join Captain America: New World Order. She’s someone many fans don’t know and, honestly, a “hero” who doesn’t need to be in the MCU. Her name? Sabra.
Marvel’s Sabra and Her Problematic, Racist History
In the Marvel Comics, Sabra is a Jewish and Israeli version of Captain America who works for the government’s intelligence agency Mossad. She also works undercover for Israeli police when she’s not donning her super suit. Her first appearance is in The Incredible Hulk #256 (1962), where she gets into a fight with Hulk because she thinks he’s helping Arab terrorists. When a Palestinian boy gets caught in the crossfire and dies, Hulk rages. He says, “Boy died because boy’s people and yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn’t share!”
Despite being an outrageous oversimplification of a decades-long war, this line wakes Sabra up. She realizes that she’s built as a weapon of war. After this encounter, something ignites in her to not see all Arabs as a monolith. The problem, though, is this change doesn’t stick… at all.
Through-out Sabra’s tenure as a superhero, her racist attitudes towards Arab characters doesn’t waver, even though it isn’t as overt. We see this up through the early 2000s with her rocky relationship with multiple iterations of Arabian Knight. (He is a character who also embodies offensive stereotypes.) She questions and fights with Knight often. New Warriors #59 reveals that she distrusts Palestinians because they were responsible for killing her son.
Marvel made a statement saying the film will “take a new approach with the character for today’s audience.” But there’s only so much that you can re-write before Sabra is an entirely different character. Which, in that case, why not simply create a new character? But, there’s an even more pervasive and heartbreaking sociopolitical issue with Sabra’s inclusion in the MCU that the studio isn’t ready to handle.
The Real Sabra Location and Its History
The word “sabra” is a Hebrew word that refers to a Jewish person born in Israel. However, Sabra is also the name of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, which still exists today. In 1982, Sabra and Shatila, a neighboring camp, were the site of a horrific massacre. During this event, Israeli-allied militiamen from the right-wing Lebanese Christian Kataeb Party and the South Lebanon Army killed 3500 Palestinians and Lebanese civilians. According to reports, the attack lasted three days as the group went into the camp, torturing and killing civilians.
For Palestinian people, Sabra isn’t the name of some hummus brand or a hero they admire. It’s where the murder of thousands of people took place. And Sabra is where over 12,000 people still live today while fighting for their political and civil rights. It’s laughable that Marvel thinks any “new approach” to this superhero would ease this generational pain. And it is clearly causing ire due to what’s happening with the Israeli government.
As the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Harvard Law reports, the Israeli government and police force—the same ones that Sabra fictionally works for—are realistically practicing apartheid. There are stories of shooting civilians in the head with rubber bullets, classifying Palestinian civil services organizations as “terrorist organizations,”and wrongfully detaining Palestinian children for indefinite amounts of time with brutal interrogations. A survivor of these treatments and Palestinian activist, Ahed Tamimi, also just released a memoir. In it, she details all of the awful things the Israeli military did to her during an eight month detainment.
While it’s no secret that Marvel has a tendency to idolize the military, it’s hard to see how any of Israel’s actions can become a “great Hollywood blockbuster story” for entertainment. There is no “new approach” that could paint a soldier from this background as a model hero.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to put a Jewish hero in the forefront of the MCU; however, putting Sabra, an Israeli government agent, into the world’s biggest blockbuster franchise is a problem. It certainly feels like the powers that be are ignoring the real-life atrocities happening to people. There are already other Jewish heroes that Marvel Studios can include in the MCU. And there are so many ways to whisk audiences away into a thrilling story without this problematic emblem. For Marvel Studios to go forth with using a racist and outdated character like Sabra would be a shame and an incredible insult to Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab fans all around the world. Let’s see how this all unfolds as New World Order approaches.