How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

Z is for Zoo

The Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi has called Israel a “carceral state.” A metonym of this condition, and its complications, can be found at Qalqilya zoo. Qalqilya is almost entirely surrounded by the Separation Wall, as a result of its involvement in the first Intifada. Despite this embattled status, it has within it a zoo, one of the few functioning public leisure spaces I saw.

Like most zoos, its containment of animals is more than a little grim.
A  brown bear paced in his cage relentlessly, as if wanting the Palestinian visitors to see his confinement as their own. Most dramatic is the separate museum that contains a number of stuffed animals. They died in the Intifada, as in the case of the giraffe (above), who lay down in fear during gunfire, causing her to die from her own blood pressure.

It transpired that she was twelve months pregnant (out of 15) and so the zoo director, Sami Khader, turned taxidermist to preserve them. Their spindly bodies are perhaps indicative of his emergent skills or maybe testify to the emaciated condition of the animals under siege. You might see them as martyrs, non-human victims of the occupation. Or as surrogates, waiting until Palestine is free to welcome other giraffes. It’s a poignant story and there’s a film being made called Waiting for Giraffes and a published book called The Zoo On the Road to Nablus.

But there were no visitors other than us to the museum, perhaps because there was an additional charge for admission. And then there’s always the occupation. During the Intifada, the animals that did survive were forced to eat leaves from the trees and other local plants. At some point later, Dr. Sami (as he is known) decided to take animal food and other equipment from Israeli zoos. To do so is to break the boycott of Israel.

Is sustaining a public resource and keeping animals alive reasonable cause? Or is a boycott a boycott? Palestinians demonstrate time and again a long-term steadfast resistance to their own material and physical detriment. But can animals be expected to do so? There is no simple and painless answer to this dilemma, which is the condition of being under occupation.

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