Israel’s humane society

The compassion shown for animals may well surpass that shown towards Israel’s Arab population, says author.

Israelis of Ethiopian Origin Protest Racism in Kiryat Malakhi
New ‘Citizenship Law’ passed in Israel is widely held as highly discriminatory towards Arabs [EPA]

Lima, Peru – Last week, Israel’s High Court voted to uphold a law denying Israeli citizenship or residency not only to Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs, but also to spouses of similarly distasteful nationality (Lebanese, Iraqi, etc).

I read the news of the court verdict on the Haaretz website, where it was offset by another breaking headline of a more compassionate nature: “Serbian vulture set free after treatment at Israeli veterinary hospital”.

According to the article:

The vulture was found injured at Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in northern Israel, and was rushed to an Israeli veterinary hospital specializing in wild animals. There, the bird was diagnosed with multiple gunshot wounds.

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Following two months of treatment, the vulture was set free. The Serbian embassy in Tel Aviv was reportedly “delighted to hear about the bird’s recovery, and Serbian diplomats attended the release of the Serbian ‘patient’ back into the wild”. Haaretz offered the following assessment:

Flying in the Middle East can be perilous for the scavenger birds, as they are sometime [sic] shot by people ignoring the international treaties protecting these birds.

As for other creatures imperiled by ignorance of international treaties, these might include Palestinian populations regularly subjected to collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The inferior urgency of Palestinian medical conditions vis-a-vis avian ones is additionally underscored by the Israeli tradition of firing missiles at Palestinian ambulances, as well as by Haaretz headlines such as “IDF investigating death of diabetic Palestinian delayed at checkpoint” and “Palestinians: Ailing woman dies after IDF denies her ambulance”.

A 2004 Guardian article chronicling an Israeli bulldozing rampage in Gaza meanwhile reveals that the value of avian life also fluctuates in accordance with ethnogeographic determinants. The following description is of the aftermath of the demolition of the Rafah zoo:

One of the ostriches lay half buried in the rubble. Guinea fowl and ducks were laid out in a row. Goats and a deer struggled with broken legs … [Zoo co-proprietor Mohammed Ahmed] Juma accused Israeli soldiers of stealing valuable African parrots.

According to the article, after initially denying the destruction of the zoo and then conceding that a tank may have perhaps backed into it, the IDF eventually acknowledged having driven through the establishment, but “a spokesman said the soldiers had released the animals from their cages in a compassionate gesture to prevent them being harmed”.

Other compassionate defiance of reality on the part of IDF spokespeople consisted of a denial … that the army had bulldozed dozens of Rafah homes, and a magical conversion of unarmed children into armed men … to justify their killing.”

Other compassionate defiance of reality on the part of IDF spokespeople consisted of a denial – not easily reconcilable with the ubiquitous rubble – that the army had bulldozed dozens of Rafah homes, and a magical conversion of unarmed children into armed men in order to retroactively justify their killing. Juma is quoted in the article as stating that “[p]eople are more important than animals. But the zoo is the only place in Rafah that children could escape the tense atmosphere”.

The issue of the relative importance of animals was meanwhile once again brought up in 2009 with the proposal in the Knesset of a bill to rename the Animal Welfare Law the “Animal Rights Law”. The ultimate rejection of the bill was recounted in Haaretz:

‘The proposed law is based on the unacceptable premise that animals have rights’, Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas) told the Knesset.

Margi said the government believes animals have the same legal status as inanimate entities such as corporations, ships, universities and cities.

According to the article, however, “Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin showed great interest in the debate, being a dog owner”, and countered during Margi’s speech: “I do not know what I would do to a person who killed my Stephan.” The Kadima party MK who proposed the bill pledged to re-propose it in the future.

These encouraging attitudes – coupled with the Serbian vulture rehabilitation success and the fact that corporations in Israel don’t appear to be doing too poorly, despite allegedly lacking legal rights – increase the possibility that Israel may yet be marketed as an animal rights oasis as another means of distracting international observers from the war crimes and other flagrant human rights abuses upon which the state is founded.

Operations less associated with a specific colour include the placement of scantily clad female IDF soldiers in Maxim magazine spreads.”

This new addition to the PR campaign would augment greenwashing and pinkwashing strategies already in effect. Operations less associated with a specific colour include the placement of scantily clad female IDF soldiers in Maxim magazine spreads.

More reasons for animal rights optimism can meanwhile be found in a 2009 Haaretz item – according to which “Tel Aviv’s stray cats no longer have to go hungry” thanks to a large-scale feeding bowl distribution project by the SOS Pet Association:

The association said that they were aware of the fact that feeding stray cats often becomes a conflict between neighbours, which is why they have decided to try and impose a more organised and aesthetically pleasing feeding system for cats which might otherwise have starved to death because the trash bins have shut lids.

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As for other kinds of feeding systems implemented by Israelis in the context of conflicts among neighbours, these have comprised bans on pasta shipments to Gaza based on the excuse that macaroni is not an essential food item. It thus appears that the rationale offered by the CEO of the SOS Pet Association for feeding stray cats cannot be readily applied to the residents of Palestinian territories:

If they receive more food, they will look much better, they won’t be so pathetic and we will also be able to start talking to neighbours about reducing their presence by having them spayed.

Potential presence-reduction methods of Israel’s domestic human population, however, are referenced in a 2010 article by award-winning journalist Jonathan Cook, which begins:

Health officials in Israel are subjecting many female Ethiopian immigrants to a controversial long-term birth control drug in what Israeli women’s groups allege is a racist policy to reduce the number of black babies.

In the event Israel’s PR machine requires assistance in whitewashing this particular practice, the administration of the drug itself could conceivably be dubbed “whitewashing”.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in Nov. 2011. She is an editor at PULSE Media, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, CounterPunch, Guernica Magazine, and many other publications.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.