August 29, 2017

Wonder Woman Ban


On the 31st of May, 2017, it was announced that the upcoming (now in theatres) Wonder Woman would be banned in Lebanon. Headlines such as “'Wonder Woman' banned in Lebanon because lead actress is Israeli”, “Lebanon Bans ‘Wonder Woman’ Because Its Star Is From Israel”, “Lebanon bans Wonder Woman film over Israeli lead actress” were run by outlets such as CNN, NYT and CBC. Much like virtually all reporting which is done on issues abroad, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, Western corporate media has obfuscated and muddled the truth, reducing the story to the one-dimensional narrative of blind Arab hatred towards Israel and therefore enticing support for the practically uncritical pro-Zionist foreign policy of the West. However, despite the seemingly trivial nature of superhero movies, the story is not so simple and cannot be explained through rudimentary cultural tropes about the Arab world.

As popular as the crude Western caricature of the Arab world as having an innate, irrational and bloodthirsty hatred of the Jewish people is, the fact is that the Wonder Woman ban has less to do with its leading actress, Gal Gadot, simply existing as a Jewish or Israeli woman, but is instead bound up in her past service in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Gadot served in the army as a combat trainer, including through the duration of the 2006 war on Lebanon. Thereby, Gadot abetted and trained the forces which killed over a thousand Lebanese civilians, wounding another four thousand and displacing nearly one million in just over a month. Israeli forces infamously utilized weapons of dubious legality (i.e, without a clear international standard, but which may be illegal under certain mandates of international law and which are considered criminal by a number of organizations and states worldwide), such as white phosphorus and cluster munitions. In particular, Israel faced harsh criticism for the use of an estimated 4.6 million (!) cluster munitions. A report by a United Nations (UN) commission noted:

“90 per cent of [cluster munitions] were fired by IDF during the last 72 hours [i.e, when it was already clear a settlement would be reached] of the conflict… their use was excessive and not justified by any reason of military necessity… these weapons were used deliberately to turn large areas of fertile agricultural land into “no go” areas for the civilian population. Furthermore, in view of the foreseeable high dud rate, their use amounted to a de facto scattering of anti-personnel mines across wide tracts of Lebanese land.”

These duds continued to cause up to 4 casualties each day in the months following the formal end of the war. By contrast, Hezbollah is estimated to have launched one hundred thirteen cluster rockets, resulting in a single death.

Critics of the ban note that Israel has mandatory military service, positing that it is unfair to criticize Gadot for completing her mandatory service and not even serving as an actual combatant. This is contrasted by her continued allegiance to the Forces to this date and even supporting conscription, stating “in Israel serving is part of being an Israeli. You've got to give back to the state. You give two or three years, and it's not about you. You give your freedom away. You learn discipline and respect” in an interview from March of this year. Further, Gadot drew ire for a Facebook post made during Israel’s 2014 Gaza offensive, writing:

Destroyed homes in Gaza after the IDF bombed the area
“I am sending my love and prayers… to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas”, ‘hashtagging’ the post “#weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf””

The 2014 operation left over two thousand Palestinians dead (nearly five hundred of them children), with an additional eleven thousand wounded (three thousand children) and up to half a million displaced. These numbers contrast the six Israeli civilians who were (tragically) killed in the same timeframe.

Gadot’s post attempts to shift the blame for Gaza’s suffering from the Zionist project and its allies onto the Gazan government itself. No matter the faults and abuses of Hamas governance (both real and imagined), no government in Gaza is allowed to stand on its own merit under the pressure of Israeli blockade and bombardment. One UN office highlights these flagrant abuses:

“1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza are ‘locked in’, unable to access the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory and the outside world… Longstanding access restrictions imposed by Israel have undermined Gaza’s economy, resulting in high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and aid dependency… Israel, as the occupying power, must lift the blockade, which contravenes article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective penalties and prevents the realization of a broad range of human rights.”

Most recently, Israel has cut off electricity to Gaza. A UN report has warned that the devastation of Israeli terror is going to leave Gaza "uninhabitable" by 2020 - regardless of who Gazans choose to vote for.

In light of this criticism, the Israelis who refuse to serve in the IDF, rebuff being complicit (anymore than they already are) in colonial violence, and are treated as criminals for advocating for peace cannot be forgotten. Further, it should also be noted that it is fairly commonplace for Israeli women to be exempted from the draft, with 44% of girls not enlisting in 2008, mostly on religious grounds. However, the Israeli state has been cracking down on this practice in recent years, and those who apply for exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection are far less likely to be approved.

The Lebanon ban was the result of the Lebanese group Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon pressuring the Lebanese government to enforce the inconsistently enforced 1955 Israel Boycott Law. (Others have since followed suit) In any case, whether this is a victory in Lebanon or not, it is not particularly useful for those Westerners who oppose Israeli occupation and aggression to become caught up in debates about one superhero film or one individual actress. Instead, the prominence of the issue should be used to direct a conversation towards the actual Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which has established itself in the West. The symbolic gesture of refusing to see a movie is not an ends, and is certainly futile on a decentralized basis, let alone directed towards to a superhero blockbuster, but it can be harnessed as a means towards strengthening the actual organized boycott of Israeli apartheid by seizing the opportunity to expose the brutality of the occupation and its enforcers, shifting discourse towards concrete actions which pose a material threat to Israeli expansionism by bolstering the power of Palestinian resistance. Therefore, it is important to understand the corporate media’s ‘spin’ on the Wonder Woman ban is disingenuous and misleading - however, it is equally important to understand that the discourse this kind of reporting seeks to foment is a dead end. Superhero movies aren’t the left’s hill to die on - what is imperative is that solidarity actions which have real material ramifications continue to be made and can be made with stronger support and increased fervor.

In a similar vein, English rock band Radiohead has drawn criticism for their decision to perform in Israel (in a park built on the ruins of a Palestinian village depopulated in 1948, no less). Despite protest from fans (via petition, social media posts and even in person at their concerts) and other artists (including Ken Loach, Alice Walker and Thurston Moore), the band has chosen to double down on their choice. Just as boycott was unfeasible with Wonder
Protestors with Palestinian flags at a Radiohead
concert in Glasgow
Woman, it has (so far) failed with Radiohead. However, the stir both have caused in the media and online have served as a chance to change minds, not only raising awareness the crimes of occupation, but drawing attention towards the broader BDS movement. If the anti-war movement plays its cards right in these situations, perhaps the racket around things like Wonder Woman and Radiohead can be channelled towards sustainable peace and an end to occupation.

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