Trying to help animals in Gaza

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2009:
GAZA–Networking with animal rescuers near Gaza, in both
Palestine and Israel, collecting money for animal relief in the
combat zones, ANIMAL PEOPLE president Kim Bartlett helped to start a
rescue effort less than 10 days after the shooting began on December
27, 2008–long before there was any clear sign of when the fighting
might end, despite rumors that Israel would pull back troops from
Gaza before the January 20, 2009 inauguration of new U.S. President
Barack Obama.
“We are now working with the Israeli charity Let The Animals
Live to help us get medicine and supplies into Gaza,” reported
Palestine Wildlife Society executive director Imad Atrash. “There
some of our friends with the ministry of agriculture, the veterinary
department, and with other nonprofit organizations will help us,”
Atrash hoped.

Atrash was also trying to arrange for Egyptian veterinarians
to visit Gaza, if a safe way could be found to get them to where
they were needed. Many international relief charities had mobilized
to help the human victims, but at least one relief worker was
killed, prompting the United Nations to halt aid distribution to
Gaza on January 10, 2009. Through January 11, at least 898 Gaza
residents and 13 Israelis had been killed, at least 3,695 Gaza
residents had been injured, and two Egyptian children and two
Egyptian police officers had been hit by shrapnel flying over the
border, according to CNN sources. Among the dead humans, 45% were
women and children, the CNN sources said.
No one counted the animal victims. Television news reports
showed dead and injured donkeys near at least one scene of aerial
“The situation is very hard for both the animals and the
people,” Atrash wrote, mentioning “donkeys, goats, dogs, cats,
birds, and many others.”
Reports from human welfare organizations indicated that
thousands of chickens had died from lack of food, water, and
ventilation, resulting from lack of electricity and lack of fuel for
Reported Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals founder Mona
Khalil, “I have two family members in Gaza. Our friend Hana had
saved two cats from along the border but troops did not allow her to
take them into Gaza, and she had to take them back to Cairo. Now
they are with ESMA. Now, from Gaza, Hana reports to me that she has
seen at least 50 cats who have been killed. Many stray dogs too are
dead–that was her last conversation with me. There are no animal
groups who have been able to do anything to my knowledge,” Khalil
said. “The situation is very devastating: no water, no electricity,
no medicine–simply nothing–and it is impossible for any animal
groups even if they were ready to help to know how to enter.”
E-mailed Ahmed Sherbiny of the Egyptian Society of Animal
Friends, “I also discussed the possibility to send some medical
supplies with our colleague Margaret Ledger of the Humane Center for
Animal Welfare in Jordan, through the King Hussein Bridge. She
stated that the situation in the West Bank is even worse. No one is
allowed to travel from one place to another without permission and
inspection by Israeli soldiers. For this reason it is almost
impossible to send any aid.”
“We are trying to help Imad pass the supplies into Gaza,”
affirmed a spokesperson for Let The Animals Live. “Let The Animals
Live is also taking care of all the animals who were abandoned by
Israeli families who left the bombed south,” as result of the Hamas
rocket attacks that prompted the Israeli military to invade Gaza–for
example, 12 dogs rescued from Shederot on January 8, 2009.
The oldest no-kill animal rescue charity in Israel, Let The
Animals Live also led animal relief efforts in the line of rocket
fire during the Israeli pursuit of Hezbollah militias into Lebanon in
“I have not heard anything from Gaza yet. The situation is
too critical,” e-mailed ANIMAL PEOPLE reader Ellen Moshenberg from
Arad L’hai, Israel, who has often tried to help animals on either
side of the lines during previous conflicts, “but meanwhile there
have been requests for help from Ashkelon, which is constantly being
rocketed. Fleeing citizens are leaving animals behind. SOS Pets
Ashkelon is doing everything it can.”
A shelterless foster/rescue charity, SOS Pets Ashkelon just
formed in 2008. “All society members are volunteers–we have no paid
employees–and are from different professions including medicine,
veterinary care, education, law practice and high tech,” said the
SOS Pets Ashkelon web site, which had not been updated to keep pace
with events.
Booby traps near zoo
The Israeli newspaper Haaertz reported on January 11, 2009
that “Israel Defense Forces troops this week uncovered a school in
the Gaza Strip rigged by Hamas militants with a large amount of
explosives. The school, located next to a Gaza zoo, was entirely
surrounded by a fuse connecting to the explosives.”
The two-acre Gaza Zoo, also called the Heaven of Birds &
Animals Zoo and the only zoo known to be in Gaza, is located between
the Rafah and Brazil refugee camps near the border of Israel and
Israeli tanks smashed the zoo at 3:00 a.m. on May 20, 2004,
during a previous attempt to stop Hamas militants from firing rockets
into Israel. Many animals were killed, but founder Mohammed Juma
eroded the sympathy of some of the Europeans and Americans who
expressed interest in helping him to rebuild by telling Chicago
Tribune staff reporter Bill Glauber that he wished he had a live
rabbit to throw to his surviving python.
The Gaza Zoo did reopen in October 2005, with a sibling pair
of young African lions. Sabrina, the female, was soon afterward
stolen at gunpoint. Sakher, the male, resisted the gunmen and was
left behind.
For nearly two years Sabrina’s whereabouts were a mystery,
Gaza being a small, crowded, thoroughly unlikely place for hiding a
lion–but then she was seen in July 2007 at a photo studio,
malnourished, declawed, defanged, and missing part of her tail.
Hamas militiamen reportedly rescued her after a shootout with her
captors, who were described as members of a notorious drug ring.
Just a month later the Al-Aqsa TV program Tomorrow’s Pioneers
showed a man swinging cats by their tails and throwing stones at one
of the zoo lions as a purported lesson in humane education.
Gaza Zoo veterinarian Saoud al-Shawa told Corinne Heller of
Reuters that he had not been consulted before the episode was
videotaped, but said he favored teaching children not to harm
“Even at the zoo, we sometimes complain about the aggressive
behavior of some of the children,” al-Shawa said. “But we do not
blame them. We blame the violent environment–Israeli violence and
Palestinian-Palestinian violence too.”
Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid in August 2008 described
the zoo as “a sign of Gaza’s ever-expanding tunnel industry.”
Explained Hadid, “Gaza’s commercial trade was literally
forced underground after the Hamas seized the coastal territory last
summer, prompting neighboring Israel and Egypt to restrict movement
through commercial crossings.” The lions, Hadid said, “were
purchased as cubs from Egypt for $3,000 each, drugged, and dragged
through a tunnel in sacks,” as were the zoo’s monkeys.
“Two monkeys were bought together as babies. So were three
spindly legged gazelles, one of whom bit several tunnel smugglers
when they forgot to sedate her,” zoo manager Shadi Fayiz told Hadid.
“A parrot was slipped through a tunnel in a cage,” Hadid wrote.
However, animals of all of these descriptions were already
at the Gaza Zoo, according to earlier reports, before the border
was closed.

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