September Press Defends 'Sabra,' Overlooks Crimes of the Occupation
Date: 
October 29, 2022
blog Series: 

Editor's Note: This article is part of the Press on Palestine series, an initiative by Palestine Square. It includes selections from September 2022. Press on Palestine highlights bias in mainstream American reporting on Palestinian and Arab-Israeli affairs. This roundup was authored by a Palestinian writer with archival interets, their name is omitted for privacy reasons. 

1. The New York Times, September 15, 2022
With an Israeli Superhero, Marvel Wades Into an Intractable Conflict by Isabel Kershner

Kershner writes about ‘Sabra,’ Marvel’s Israeli superhero (a mutant Mossad agent) who debuted in the comics in 1980 and is making her cinematic debut in 2024’s Captain America.

Sabra is a name eerily reminiscent of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, which was carried out by Israelis and the Lebanese Forces militia in Lebanon. A lifelong defender of the apartheid state, Kershner bemoans Israel being ‘vilified’ by international rights groups. She writes that “some of those organizations equate Israeli policy with apartheid,” before quickly dismisisng the Palestinian people by referencing normalization of relations with Arab countries who “have grown tired of waiting for any resolution of the long conflict.”

Kershner then turns to Gal Gadot, a former Israeli occupation soldier who plays DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. Tying Sabra and Gadot together by presenting them as peace-makers who push forward Israel’s place on the global art scene, Kershner frames Gadot in a heroic light, stating that “critics assailed her for comments in which she defended Israel’s right to exist.”

The descriptor of Israel as a state and Palestinians as only a people is notably violent as it erases Palestinian claim to their land.

Kershner also exclusively speaks with Israeli sources, including Einat Wilf, a former Israeli lawmaker and author of We Should All Be Zionists.

Kershner moves on to describe the character’s emergence in the Marvel universe, citing Yossi Klein Halevi: “Over the course of a long conflict, like the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a kind of cultural paranoia sets in... sometimes, a Marvel movie is just a Marvel movie.’”

This insistence on referring to the Occupation of Palestine as a “conflict” is a familiar tune. It is a way of equating apartheid and ethnic cleansing — being carried out by an American-backed nuclear power — to a simple war between two parties on an equal playing field. And, while Kershner seems to imply that entertainment should be off limits to criticism, it is quite clear that such a film role has been created to push the false Israeli narrative to the forefront of lowbrow popular culture. More damning, Marvel Studios is elevating an actress who has repeatedly dehumanized Palestinians and publicly praised the bombardment of civilians in Gaza.

2. The Washington Post, September 20, 2022
Young Palestinians arm themselves for a new era of violent resistance by Shira Rubin

Shira Rubin works quickly to cast Palestinians as terrorists in this article, collecting quotes from Israeli military officials (both named and unnamed) and misrepresenting the dire situation faced by the Palestinian people under Occupation.

Retired colonel Miri Eisin describes Palestinians in Jenin as “young, angry, unemployed members of Palestinian gangs, with no hierarchy — somewhere in between lone wolves and terror cells.” The usage of ‘gangs,’ ‘lone wolves,’ and ‘terror cells’ — particularly by a member of an Occupation force known for killing unarmed civilians — is a way to marginalize Palestinians in the eyes of Western audiences, who are familiar with this terminology from the 24-hour news cycle.

At no point in the article does Rubin mention crimes committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). She does not mention the massive land theft in urban and rural areas by army-backed illegal Israeli settlers; she does not mention the checkpoints, harassment and economic sanctions that Palestinians are subjected to. In her reporting, young Palestinians are simply the victims of unemployment, poverty, and a lack of opportunity out of sheer chance.

When discussing the protests in Jenin, Rubin quickly pivots away from residents’ frustration with the unchecked killing of the IOF. Instead, she places the blame on the Palestinian Authority — as if the Palestinians who are staging an uprising against a military occupation consider the PA to be a legitimate representative. For someone who has been earning her money reporting on Israeli affairs for more than a decade, Rubin should know better.

Rubin spends at least twelve paragraphs depicting Palestinians’ relationship with guns — rather than their relationship with Israeli checkpoints and armed Israeli settlers. She paints young Palestinian men as, essentially, thugs. This is a play on very dangerous tropes against brown and Black men that are common in US media — but, of course, this being a Middle Eastern story, typical editorial scrutiny does not apply.

Jenin is held up as an isolated case, a pseudo-reality for Western audiences. Simply, Palestinian youth are violent, protesting for no reason, or protesting against their own. The system that oppresses them, kills them, steals their land, and holds their corpses indefinitely is utterly absent from the narrative.

3. The Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2022
Israel’s Military Says Its Soldier Likely Killed Al Jazeera Reporter in Error by Dov Lieber and Aaron Boxerman

In both opening and closing of this article, Dov Lieber and Aaron Boxerman write that the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh was a ‘mistake.’ Notwithstanding Israel’s 74-year-long history of murdering Palestinians, and multiple investigations that declared Abu Akleh’s deliberate targeting, the two do not question the intentional use of brutal force by the IOF.

Utilizing the autopsy report, the authors quote an unnamed Israeli official, who falsely claims that Abu Akleh’s ‘press’ markings “may not have been visible” to the soldier. This absurd comment goes unchallenged: Israel’s obsession with promoting and selling its draconian surveillance technology — which includes long-range facial recognition software used against Palestinians in the West Bank — has been well-documented by the Wall Street Journal.

While the authors mention the United Nations investigation that proved Israeli culpability for Abu Akleh’s murder, they are careful to omit how the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights clearly found no issued warnings by Israeli forces and no active shooting at the time, concussively proving that Abu Akleh was assassinated.

Jenin — where Abu Akleh was reporting from — is framed as a center of “incursions” rather than occupational violence.

B’Tselem representatives and Israeli officials are the only directly quoted groups in the piece. No Palestinians are recognized as legitimate sources. There is also no reference to Israel’s long record of killing Palestinian journalists —18 have been killed just since 2004. They do not quote or speak with other Palestinians and human rights organisations. Lifting statements only from the Palestinian Authority and Abu Akleh’s family, Lieber and Boxerman do not mention how at least 45 journalists have been killed by Israel since 2000. Despite the clearly pro-Israel stance of the Journal, it is always puzzling to come across people who shared Abu Akleh’s profession making efforts to whitewash the killing of reporters.

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