Portrait of a Sabra: Gestalt of a Symbol


The sabra motive is a symbol that is laden with multiple meanings in Israeli-Palestinian political discourse. Found throughout the dry regions in Israel, the plant is able to survive on very little, and parts of the plant that break off and fall from the main trunk form new roots wherever they land. For the first generations of Jewish people born in the region, the sabra was adopted as an important symbol of hope, regeneration and tenacity, and reflected the intimate connection to the land the proponents of the new Zionist movement yearned for. These New Jews colloquially referred to themselves as “Tzabar” (linguistically related to the Arabic “sabra”). For Palestinians, the sabra has quite another meaning. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli military completely destroyed abandoned Arab villages in an attempt to erase the memory of these places. However, today one can see traces of these villages through the presence of rows of sabras, growing again where they previously had been planted to form fences or walls surrounding the houses.