Visiting with Palestinian Animal League
Prior to arriving in the occupied territories of Palestine, I learned about PAL (Palestinian Animal League) through personal research.
PAL is an animal, and human rights organization located in Ramallah, that works to empower youth, and encourages compassion for both humans, and animals.
They also hope to connect Palestinians to their authentic culture and tradition, and to change the negative stereotypes about Palestinians.
Ahmad Safi is a Palestinian vegan, and the co-founder, and executive director of Palestinian Animal League.
Cody and I travelled to Ramallah to meet Ahmad, and learn more about the work he, and many other compassionate Palestinians are doing to make life more humane for everyone involved.
LIFE IS DIFFICULT FOR BOTH HUMANS AND ANIMALS IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE
Ahmad founded Palestinian Animal League in 2011 after noticing local children being cruel towards animals. He discovered that this aggression was normalized by the regular violence perpetrated against them and their families by the Israeli military.
It is common for violence to be carried over to abusing animals, as it is a release of anger and frustration.
Ahmad wanted to break the cycle of brutality, so he began to work with young students by teaching them how to deal with their emotions without harming others, to be responsible for their own actions, and how to transform their frustrations of day–to-day life into positive action for animals.
As PAL’s work is focused upon supporting youth, and encouraging compassion and kindness to both animals and people, this mentoring program was named Youth for Change. You can read more about the program here Youth for Change.
Community open days, which offer families the opportunity to learn about animal welfare and vegan and vegetarian nutrition, are held at least once a year.
The Palestinian Animal League team trained over 14 university students this year to act as mentors in a project which seeks to encourage schoolchildren to understand, pinpoint, and solve animal welfare problems in their local communities.
The students also learned how to plan and deliver successful animal protection campaigns. They then passed their knowledge to over 460 schoolchildren, in 14 different schools and community groups throughout the West Bank.
Out of Youth for Change came Sudfeh, an idea formed by a group of 14 year old schoolgirls taking part in the Youth for Change programme, to open a vegan cafeteria at Al Quds University campus in Abu Dis, Jerusalem. The girls want a fair chance to build a good future, and a proper place to facilitate a healthy plant based diet while promoting veganism.
Not only will Sudfeh be the first vegan cafeteria in Palestine, it will be the first vegan cafeteria in any Arabic speaking university in the world!
Sudfeh will be non-profit with all of the proceeds being split equally between support for animal protection projects, and scholarships for less fortunate students.
The start-up costs for the vegan cafeteria have been sourced via crowdfunding, but Palestinian Animal League is always in need of donations to continue, expand, and promote their projects.
COMPASSION UNDER OCCUPATION
Running an animal and human rights organization under occupation is not an easy feat.
The Israeli military makes it very difficult for the people of Palestine to compassionately relate to animals.
For example, the military was purchasing Dutch war dogs from the Netherlands. The dogs were used as a scare tactic to intimidate Palestinians. Once the dogs were no longer of use, they were deliberately discarded in Palestinian Territories.
The dogs are extremely dangerous and vicious, and have harmed several locals. This violent action does not make it easier for Palestinians to trust, and be comfortable around dogs.
Instead, it creates fear, and perpetuates more harm and violence leading local municipalities to implement lethal control of stray dog populations; using poisoning and live ammunition. This form of intimidation is an example of the oppressor exploiting one marginalized group, to control another marginalized group through violence.
Fortunately, Palestinian Animal League supported human rights group, Al Haq, in a successful campaign to stop one of the biggest companies in the Netherlands from selling and training war dogs for the Israeli military.
The current reality in Palestine is that locals use donkeys, and horses as working animals. PAL and their vet team treat the animals, and teach locals how to properly and compassionately care for them.
Horses and donkeys are also used for tourism in the Jordan valley; sadly the Israeli military does not allow any shelter for the animals to escape from the hot sun.
While Palestinian Animal League is making progress towards the compassionate treatment of animals, the military continues to hold them back, but despite dealing with the daily impact of the ongoing military occupation, the PAL team have developed a number of far-reaching projects; such as programmes to improve life for working donkeys and horses, spay and neuter clinics for street dogs, and effective humane educational projects for young people.
ROOTS OF THE PALESTINIAN DIET
Prior to the occupation, the roots of the Palestinian diet comprised of seeds, beans, fruits, grains, and vegetables; much like many other indigenous communities before colonization. Animals were not a primary source of protein, and they were most certainly not massively bred in factory farms.
Once the displacement began, and land was taken away, it was extremely difficult to grow crops. Palestinians were forced to leave, and their only means of survival was to raise animals for slaughter.
Industrial farming never existed within Palestinian communities, but since the occupation, Israel has implemented factory farming systems, and 3 years ago a Palestinian businessman opened his own intensive farming unit in Ramallah.
Currently there is a chicken factory farm just outside of Ramallah that holds over 700,000 chickens. All of the chicken waste including feet, feathers, beaks, and excrement is sent to a rendering plant in Israel to be turned into food for the chickens, and then sold back to Palestinian farmers.
ISRAEL, VEGANISM, AND OPPRESSION
Israel is governed by hard right-wing coalitions that have increased oppressive policies against the Palestinian people.
In the long term, the repercussions of displacement can be devastating, resulting in unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and signs of psychological distress among children and adults. Animals also suffer immensely by the hands of humans under oppression.
Israel is indeed very vegan friendly in terms of food choices, but it is essential to see beyond the positive PR.
The promotion of vegan Israeli soldiers having access to plant based food, non-wool sweaters, and vegan boots, is a distraction from what is really going on. It is a distraction from the severe human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli government against the people of Palestine every single day.
The BBC interviewed with the Israeli Defence Forces “Vegan Warriors” offering a podium to young vegan soldiers in the military to speak about their compassionate lifestyle choices and to explain why they feel that being part of armed warfare against an unarmed civilian population does not conflict with their idea of veganism.
This passage was taken from the BBC Interview: (You can find the full article here)
“Her diet is so important to her that had the army not been able to provide conditions that had harmed no living creatures, she might not have enlisted in a combat unit”
There is a dangerous disconnect when one is so invested in not harming one type of sentient being, while they are involved in completely destroying another.
We hope that one day soon, the thousands of people in Tel Aviv that show up for animal rights protests, will also be present at free Palestine demonstrations. People must begin to acknowledge and fight against the occupation.
We will never attain a world free from cruelty to animals without standing up and also speaking out for people in need.
Palestine may not yet be as vegan friendly as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but in the midst of an occupation that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, we were quite impressed with the growing consciousness there.
To donate to Palestinian Animal League’s incredible projects, please follow the link http://www.pal.ps/
Photos credits to Klaus Petrus http://www.klauspetrus.ch and PAL