The latest demonstrations in Gaza took place as the U.S. embassy was
formally relocated to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, on the 70th anniversary
of the formation of Israel. Only 40 miles from the celebration, Israeli
snipers fired upon hundreds of Palestinians- often taking out their
kneecaps-and shot dead 60 others for attempting to come near the border.
When it was over, more than 2,000 Palestinians were injured-at least
1,350 by gunfire. It was another brutal massacre in the history of
warfare between these two intrepid enemies. As Amos Oz has written:
“the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one
very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and
another no less powerful, no less convincing claim.”
Almost at the exact time that I was observing this appalling bloodbath
on the evening news, a report scrolled at the bottom of my television
screen that said a cougar had killed one mountain biker and injured
another in Washington State. Apparently the victims were mountain biking
near North Bend, about 30 miles from Seattle, just after 11 a.m. when
they realized that a cougar was chasing them. According to the report,
the bikers were able to scare the cat away at first, but it came after
them again with fatal results.
As I thought about it, the two events, at least in my mind, assumed a
common meaning. Cougars attack when their territory is invaded,
diminished, or squandered, The thought of habitat depletion and food
scarcity flashed before my consciousness. I also began to wonder
about the consequences of encroachment in general, and about the
primordial impulse to fight for one’s survival. Knowing full well-as
someone who has never been to the West Bank or Gaza- that my
metaphor is admittedly superficial, I thought to myself: just how
similar is the cougar attack to the slaughter in Gaza? It was then that I
remembered a list of statistics that I read on a progressive internet
website: 95% of water is undrinkable in Gaza. Palestinians
have barely 4 hours of electricity per day. 45% of the people are
unemployed, 45% of Palestinian children suffer acute anemia, and 50%
express no will to live. In total, 2 million Palestinians are denied
freedom of movement.Every couple of minutes someone in these
territories is on the verge of dying due to malnutrition.
I realize that my metaphor is deeply problematic due to the
assertion that any race of people is like a wild animal. To be candid, I
was going to let the whole idea of this essay go because of it.
But putting aside the grotesque history of racism and slavery that
has plagued our species, the fact remains that we are all animals.
Why does it need to be automatically taken as an insult to be compared
with other animals? Cougars epitomize strength, perceptiveness, resilience,
devotion, beauty, and more. They are also threatened to near extinction.
In every African and Arab (and Israeli) culture, there is a rich and complex
mythology that embraces animals as spiritual messengers and teachers.
Even today animism is one of the most potent religious forces in the world.
It is therefore a personal choice to demerit animals of all kinds by suggesting
they have no comparable experiences or relational value for the human animal.
It is actually indicative of the schism between humans and Nature that is
such a problem. Going further, it is indicative of the tremendous animosity,
mistrust, and sadness that has overtaken these two cultures for hundreds of years.