Founded in 1951, first as a transit camp for Jewish immigrants, Sderot is located about a kilometre from the Gaza Strip and a few more strides from the city of Beit Hanoun.
As with almost the entirety of Israel’s settled areas, Sderot was built on Palestinian land seized by the Jewish armed forces at the onset of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that gave birth to the state of Israel.
The original owners of that particular tract of land, most of whom lived in the village of Najd, were expelled to Gaza during two consecutive days in May 1948, and their village was later destroyed.
It’s not implausible to assume that the descendants of refugees from Najd could be among those launching rockets at Sderot today.
For their part, descendants of the Jewish immigrants to Sderot can be found gathering on the hillsides of the city to watch and cheer as the Israeli army drops bombs on Gaza.
According to reports in the international press, simple artefacts make up the grandstands – old couches and portable chairs – and they arrive with beverages, snacks, and a few narghiles. The stage is set for a free open-air entertainment in a Middle East summer.
With every impact and explosion, excitement and joy are accompanied by handclapping.
And with every explosion, of course, Gazans are slain, some dismembered, their houses reduced to rubble and their everyday life now a testimony to mayhem and violence.
By choice, these Sderot residents come to the hillsides to witness the sounds that unleash death and destruction on the Gazans. That it is physically impossible for them to eyewitness the horrors of the crime probably make their satisfaction at the hillsides safer.
They cheer and whoop with every blast. By default, they witness each other becoming the beings that take pleasure out of the death and despair of others.
Some Israelis argue that the intense rocket firing at Sderot from the Strip during the last few years explains this peculiar spectatorship.
Beyond rationalisations, in their enjoyment, in fact, they could have been applauding the gunfire from the sea that killed the four kids playing football on the sands of Gaza City’s fishing port on July 16th; or the shelling that decimated almost seventy Palestinians in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood on July 20th; or that which annihilated almost the entire Abu Jamaa family in Khan Younis on the early morning of July 21st.
Pick your massacre, and applaud.
It is an obscenity that calls morality and humanity into question, as Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben might phrase it, except that Agamben was referring to the Nazi extermination camp with these words.
A perverse logic of horror does connect the sites where Jews in Europe were being industrially massacred (just a few years before Sderot was established) and the sites created by Israeli-Jews at the hillsides of Sderot.
That logic extends to the violent actions of right-wing gangs now pogroming leftist protesters in Israel’s public spaces.
What connects these sites is the truth that Auschwitz should not be singularised in ways that discount or legitimise the evil of other horrors. Its exceptionality depends on that caveat.
This certainly runs against one of the main tenets of the Zionist project – Auschwitz as a bleaching function of Israel’s addiction to warmongering and violence.
To claim that morality and humanity were called into question in Auschwitz just to end the interrogation of horror there is to cancel out the claim itself.
For more than half a century, Zionism nurtured the perverse logic of horror to the point that today, it renders possible that on the hillsides of Sderot, morality and humanity are being called into question.
* Marcelo Svirsky is a Jewish–Israeli scholar, now living in Australia. He is a lecturer of Politics & International Studies at the School of Humanities & Social Enquiry, University of Wollongong. He's also the author of After Israel.
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