Terror in Israel: Why an ISIS Shooter Was Wearing a ‘Punisher’ Symbol

The skull symbolizing Marvel's anti-hero ‘The Punisher’ has been adopted by Kurdish fighters battling ISIS, Israeli soldiers and police officers, rioters storming the U.S. Capitol and now an Islamic extremist who killed two Israelis

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
The scene of the ISIS-inspired terror attack in Hadera
The scene of the ISIS-inspired terror attack in Hadera Credit: Rami Shllush
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The logo of the comic book character The Punisher has become increasingly popular among soldiers, police officers and militants in recent years. It has appeared on the uniforms of American fighters in Iraq, Kurdish fighters battling ISIS and even on the clothing of some rioters at the storming of the U.S. capital last year.

Now the white skull with angry looking eye sockets and extended teeth has shown up in another violent incident, this time a shooting attack by ISIS sympathizers in the central Israeli city of Hadera.

The assailants, Israeli Arabs from the town of Umm al-Fahm, opened fire on Sunday evening, killing Israeli Border Police officers Yazan Falah, 19, and Shirel Abukarat, 19. According to police, one of the two men, Ibrahim Agbarieh, had previously attempted to join the Islamic State. The group has taken credit for the attack on its Telegram account. This, in turn, has prompted defense officials to look into a possible connection to the ISIS sympathizer who killed four people in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva last week.

Video footage of the attack showed one of the shooters wearing body armor emblazoned with the Punisher logo on the back. This was not the first time this symbol has made headlines in Israel. Last year it was sported by an undercover Israeli policeman involved in handling the riots that took place in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021.

With two shocking attacks, ISIS rears its head in Israel. LISTEN

Marvel’s iconic antihero, Punisher, is a Marine veteran who lost his family to organized crime and began operating outside the law to execute his version of justice. The comic book character’s logo has become a “multivalent kind of free-floating symbol of violence done with some sort of honor code that is different from the law,” explains journalist and author Abraham Riesman, who has previously written about the character’s cultural impact.

“It’s become a little like ‘Kilroy was here’ to a certain extent,” Riesman says, referring to an image that became popular in World War II. “It’s a little symbol easy to draw and understand and is somewhat universal and conveys this image of ‘you’re gonna die if you cross me,” he adds, explaining that many people have picked up on the symbol online without ever reading the comic books or watching the Netflix show based on the comics.

Even though the Punisher symbol has also become associated with the anti-ISIS fight in Iraq, “at this point it’s been drained of a lot of its specific ties to the character,” Riesman says, adding that he was not surprised it was chosen by one of the Hadera attackers.

“The symbol predates its use by the American military or Kurdish forces or the Afghan National Army. It may well be that the person who got exposed to it got exposed not through its use by occupation forces in Iraq but by its use on the TV show,” he says. “The skull pops up in a lot of places.”

One of those places was the January 6 insurrection, in which a far-right mob supportive of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 election.

Following the riot, actor Jon Bernthal, who plays the Punisher in the Netflix series, took to Twitter to call those wearing the symbol as “misguided, lost, and afraid.” He declared that such criminal acts “have nothing to do with what [the Punisher] stands for.”

But Riesman says that the Punisher skull is, in many ways, a “symbol of nihilism,” divorced from concepts of right and wrong. “There’s this illusion that the Punisher has a code and doesn't kill the innocent, but the fact is that there's no way you can determine what's good when you carry out a violent act. You are introducing chaos into the system,” he says.

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott