August 8, 2020

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Insane academic paper of the week: “World War Z, The Zombie Apocalypse, and the Israeli state’s monstering of Palestinian ‘others’”




World War Z was (as I recall) a zombie apocalypse movie starring Brad Pitt. At one point in the movie, Jerusalem is seen as the safest place to be because Israelis built a wall around the city to protect themselves from the zombies. Jews and Arabs were safe inside Jerusalem and at one point, they started to sing together, which inflamed the zombies to overrun the wall and get the peaceful Arabs and Jews.

According to this academic paper by Haneen Shafeeq Ghabra & Marouf A. Hasian of Kuwait University and University of Utah, this is really a lesson in how Palestinians are the monsters.

The abstract:

The authors deploy a critical cultural critique that extends the work of monstrosity scholars and other researchers who are interested in the application of zombie apocalypse analyses to critiques of contemporary nationalistic and social controversies. World War Z sets in motion a series of cinematic dynamics that invite audiences to consider how Israeli securitization of Jerusalem might serve as the world’s best hope for containing the zombie apocalypse. By decoding the “monstering” features World War Z, the authors note the heuristic value of understanding how the rhetoric of autoimmunity influences mediated perceptions of Israeli and Palestinian conflicts.

The paper says:

We contend that through cinematic modes of monstering and discourses of autoimmunity, World War Z assuages Israeli and Western anxieties by creating characters clearly modeled on Western imaginings of Palestinian terrorists.


By choosing to put on display monstering images of zombies scaling walls, and by choosing to geopolitical situate the potential “cures” for this zombie apocalypse in Israel, the producers and promoters of World War Z are explicitly or implicitly suggesting that Palestinian dissenters, or indigenous “others,” constitute biopolitical threats that can be quarantined or contained by those who know how to battle zombies.

Except that the monsters were quarantined – the humans (Arabs and Jews) were. But, hey, they only get that part 100% wrong.

The authors quote serious movie critics: Arabs who tweeted their reviews.

Avinash Tharoor, in one Tweet, said to “forget the zombies,” because the “most unrealistic thing about World War Z was Israel inviting in displaced Palestinians.” 58Another blogger, writing from United Arab Emirates, complained that the film went from being “action film into Zionism pornography an hour into the film.” 59Rania Khalek seemed to echo these types of remarks when she tweeted that in World War Z, Israel’s “apartheid” wall apparently “helps keep out a massive horde of zombies.”

Here’s a nice part:

Viewers are asked to suspend belief and forget about how Israeli checkpoints, gates, and grids become the “forensic architecture” that dismantle the social fabric of this region. 76In World War Z, the checkpoints are configured as “salvation” gates, perhaps intended to appeal to the Judeo-Christian sentiments of viewing audiences who are taught on Saturdays and Sundays to believe that Israelis are a “chosen people,” and that Jerusalem belongs to those who fought off the infidels.

In reality, Israeli checkpoints are used to remind Palestinians of their subordinate power positions and their second-class status as dispossessed people.

And the checkpoints at Israeli malls and supermarkets? Are they also meant to demean Palestinians, or to, you know, stop bomb attacks?

What about the fact that the movie makes it very clear that Arabs and Israelis are on the same side and the zombies help unite them? Why, of course,!

The camera focuses on Muslims praying, Israelis and Palestinians chanting together as they wave both Israeli and Palestinian flags, and all of this can be viewed as cinematic form of hasbara (Israeli diplomacy) that elides, counters, or neutralizes the positions of those want to underscore the apartheid nature of Palestinian othering.

The final scene in Jerusalem is described in a truly twisted way:

One of the most intriguing parts of World War Z comes when all of the chanting and flag-waving appears to infuriate the zombies, who overwhelm the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that are there to protect the people from the zombies. As the camera moves beyond the wall, into Palestinian territory, we begin to hear grunting while dozens of monstrous bodies scurry toward the wall. Thousands of zombies are moving in dead-like piles as they breach the Israeli wall. Gerry, along with another Mossad agent, flees the country, barely making it out alive. It no coincidence that the viewer is not afforded space to sympathize with the zombies who symbolically may represent the Palestinians who threaten the security of Israel or the Palestinian terrorists who belong to organizations like Hamas. Situated thanatopolitically in the body of the zombies, the Palestinians, and their demographic threats, can be contained—at least at long as filmgoers, and Israelis, understand the necessitous nature of biosecuritizing walls.

A zombie film that doesn’t humanize the zombies is obviously showing its hate for Palestinians!

The only racists here are the academic authors, who are the only people on Earth who look at the swarming monsters in the film and automatically say – yup, those are Palestinians.

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