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In Defense of the Sderot Cinema

Cross-post from my blog at the Times of Israel


The specter of Palestinians cheering missiles and terrorist attacks on Israel isn’t a new one. Now it appears that Israel has to answer for this very same phenomenon from our own citizens. Or do we?

A photo of Israeli citizens from Sderot sitting atop a hill munching popcorn and smoking Narkeila while watching Israeli Air Force strikes on Gaza has gone viral. The picture, taken by Danish journalist Allan Sorenson has been re-tweeted almost 10,000 times at the time of writing.

The picture has been picked up by media outlets around the world. The UK’s Independent picked up the story and went on to add that;

Further images have since emerged showing larger crowds on subsequent days – suggesting that the so-called “Sderot cinema” was far from a one-off. They showed groups standing and pointing out to the horizon, and one had even brought a sofa up onto the hilltop.

This has inspired legions of Tweeters to show their outrage and disgust. One Tweeter went so far as to say;

Well fear not John this is nothing new. My first thought when I saw this picture was to remember the stories told to me by a friend of how he used to do the same thing from Har Gilo outside Jerusalem at the outbreak of the Al Aksa Intifada. Then I started thinking about it more and I remembered seeing pictures of this very same phenomenon from the US Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.

In this oversensitised conflict it seems to me that any excuse for proxies to attack one side or another is jumped on. But really this doesn’t strike me as particularly nasty. For a start these people are living in Sderot. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that after suffering a huge amount of shelling over the course of several years they are cheering the IDF attacking the weapons that have been turned on them.

But over and above this, the phenomenon of observing war is nothing new. As far back as the American Civil War civilians would watch the fighting from nearby. The phenomenon at the Battle of Bull Run was particularly well covered by the London Times. Their correspondent Wulliam H Russell reported on the many civilians who had come to witness the scene. According to Historynet;

Shortly after 1:00 p.m., the most famous news correspondent on the field, William H. Russell of the London Times, crested the Centreville ridge. Russell recalled the slopes were covered with men, carts, and horses while spectators crowned the summit. To the west, a vast panorama lay before the audience: forest and field against the backdrop of the Bull Run Mountains, 15 miles distant. The civilian horde looked intently into the scene

Here’s some of the civilians having a nice picnic while waiting for the show battle to start;

Civilians picnicing in preparation for watching the battle of Bull Run Civilians picnicing in preparation for watching the battle of Bull Run

There’s nothing new about watching war and quite frankly there’s nothing particularly despicable about watching your own air force destroy the very rockets that have been making your life a misery for years on end. Nor even cheering them on.

I think that this is demonstrative of the fact that civilians are expected to behave in a very specific way during times of conflict. Namely cowering in a shelter and/or dying. Anything that doesn’t fit into that very clear victim scenario plays strangely with people who aren’t prepared for it. The truth is that people respond to conflict in a variety of different ways. Observing from afar is one of them.

There has been a great deal made of Palestinians cheering strikes on Israeli civilians. I’ll leave it to your conscience to decide if this is really the same thing.