From Olive Trees to Superpowers

Unveiling Shireen, a Palestinian Superhero for Authentic Representation
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Two children walk alongside an adult, they have tied green prayer rugs around their necks like capes.

A superhero is a character who embodies the values of saving people, fighting evil, and promoting peace and justice in the world. Children often see superheroes as role models, buying their merchandise, and emulating them in their play.

While on patrol near the Ibrahim mosque during Ramadan, CPT observed Palestinians bringing their own prayer rugs with them to pray on the street or close to the mosque. They later used these rugs as capes while walking near a checkpoint on their way home. This suggests a concept of a Palestinian superhero and what such a character might look like. Perhaps, Palestinian children have already created their own superheroes in their own unique ways and imagine becoming that superhero. 

However, the idea of a Palestinian superhero is contrasted by the fact that Marvel Comics has already created an Israeli superhero named Sabra. This is particularly troubling for many Palestinians as the name Sabra is associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982, where thousands of Palestinians were killed by a right-wing Lebanese militia, with the complicity of the Israeli army (Aljazeera, 2022). 

The utilization of this name by Marvel Comics to represent a superhero raises further inquiries and concerns, particularly during a period marked by heightened violence and assassinations of Palestinians. The introduction of Sabra into a prominent series like Captain America prompts speculation that Israel is attempting to conceal its actions, including war crimes and apartheid. Through the guise of artistic expression, it has also been called artwashing. 

In a recent CNN interview, a Palestinian-American writer and analyst expressed his view on the matter, stating that “the whole concept of portraying Israeli spies as heroes is insensitive and disgraceful.” He went on to highlight that “the glorification of violence against Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims more generally, in mainstream media, has a long and troubling history in the West, which continues to this day.”

The creation of Sabra’s character is further controversial in that her birthplace is attributed to Jerusalem. Superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, and Superman all have a city which they claim as their own: Gotham City, New York, and Metropolis. Therefore, creating this narrative that Jerusalem belongs to Israelis because of Sabra’s birthright displaces Palestinians from this space. On the other hand, alongside the creation of Sabra in 1981 was the birth of The Arabian Knight, described as a legendary Muslim hero with multiple wives, further contributing to stereotypes against Arabs.

It wouldn’t be a huge stretch of imagination if Marvel came up with another storyline for Sabra, where settlers living in Hebron ask for help from Sabra to remove Palestinians living in the area, giving settlers full control of the city and turning the rest of the Ibrahimi Mosque into a synagogue. This story would help their narrative, artwashing the reality of ethnic cleansing, displacement, and Israel settler-colonialism, as well as the many massacres that Israel has inflicted upon Palestinians, such as the 1994 Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

As a Palestinian, I would like to suggest that if Marvel seeks to include more diverse characters, they should actively seek the input of marginalized communities in creating such characters. For example, in the case of an Israeli superhero like Sabra, Marvel could have portrayed her as a fighter against the actions of her own government toward Palestinians, showcasing solidarity with the oppressed group. Furthermore, it would be meaningful to introduce a Palestinian superhero who actively fights against the occupation and oppression occurring in Palestine.

In this context, I have devised an idea for a Palestinian superhero from Jerusalem who embodies the spirit of a golden-age heroine. Her powers emerged 20 years ago when she was in her 40s, characterized by white and black hair, a strong face, and a fit physique. She wears a traditional Palestinian costume and adorns a keffiyeh around her neck. Taking care of her land, which is abundant with olive trees, seasonal fruits, and mints, she faced the unfortunate event of Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade dividing her land and cutting down her olive trees.

She courageously handcuffed herself to the remaining tree, and miraculously, just before it was cut down, she obtained the last remaining olive. At that moment, she gained superhuman abilities, including the power to communicate and understand people from all walks of life. Additionally, she possesses the ability to rebuild what was once destroyed by the army or malevolent forces, symbolized by her planting an olive branch from a kind of crown on her forehead. Another remarkable ability she possesses is the power to bring back superheroes from the brink of death.

The presence of a superhero who can restore the damage caused by Israeli soldiers and bring care, love, and healing to every place she visits would be immensely beneficial. Acting as a nurturing figure for all, she can provide hope and solace to those who have endured loss and suffering. This imaginative concept serves as a way to give back to Palestinians and contribute to alleviating the pain and hardship they have experienced.

Finally, the superhero is named Shireen, in honour of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian martyr who tragically lost her life at the hands of Israeli soldiers in Jenin. If you would like to take action and express your opposition to Marvel’s Israeli Mossad Agent Superhero, you can sign the letter from American Muslims for Palestine by visiting this link

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