In 2016, an animal charity relocated ‘the last tiger in Palestine’, Laziz, from the Gaza Strip’s zoo to his new home in South Africa. While many Palestinians came to the zoo to say a fond farewell, others made the cynical observation that it was better to be an animal than a person in Gaza, where even cancer patients often cannot receive permits to leave for treatment. ‘The worst zoo in the world imprisons humans as well as other animals,’ writes Penny Johnson.
In this elegant and thoughtful book, Johnson finds new ways to understand the Israel and Palestine conflict. Through a range of species, from wolves, hyenas, gazelles and leopards, to donkeys, cattle and camels, Companions in Conflict estranges us from levels of violence in a place where it has become disturbingly normalised. In doing so, it reads as a non-fiction answer to Micheal Murpogo’s War Horse – looking to animals caught in the crossfire to learn more about ourselves. As with Laziz, the comparison can be painful. ‘But it could – and sometimes does – lead to a deeper understanding of the common conditions faced by people and other animals in occupied Palestine.’
Crucially, Johnson does not argue that animal rights be valued over humans. In fact, she challenges such ideas, criticising a particularly tactless effort by PETA to stop violence on donkeys during the second intifada in 2003. Meanwhile, she brings attention to brave and informal environmental and animal protection networks that are working across borders. Overall, the book views the region’s animals as a shared wealth and its environments, ‘crisscrossed with human barriers, both physical and ideological’ as a common denominator. Throughout, she addresses the core question: ‘what do we need, for humans as well as other mammals, for our common lives in Palestine and Israel to flourish?’
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