Dairy cattle, sheep, & goats occupy the no-man’s-land as Israeli tanks roll toward Gaza City
GAZA CITY, TEL AVIV–– “Our team are out there non-stop. We’re getting more and more cats and dogs with burns, open wounds, broken limbs, and the list goes on and on,” posted the Israeli organization Let The Animals Live on October 14, 2023, a week into the war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.
The war began with the October 7, 2023 Hamas massacre of about 1,300 Israeli civilians and foreign workers and visitors at multiple kibbutz collective farms plus an outdoor concert just over the border from Gaza.
High human toll & higher toll on animals
At least 279 Israeli soldiers have reportedly been killed in pursuit of the Hamas guerrillas, with another 126 taken prisoner. About 3,300 Israelis have been reported wounded.
The Gaza Health Ministry told media on October 14, 2023 that Israeli airstrikes directed at Hamas––notorious for operating close to civilian facilities, using civilians as human shields––had killed at least 2,215 people, including 724 children, wounding at least 8,714.
But horrific as the toll of the war on humans is, the numbers of animals killed, wounded, and otherwise suffering is almost certainly higher still, not entirely through accidental collateral damage.
Tom Levinson of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on April 27, 2023 extensively exposed how “In the past year (2022), the authorities culled 2,024 stray dogs: 797 were shot to death by inspectors from the Israel Nature & Parks Authority, 53 were shot by inspectors from the Agriculture Ministry’s Plant & Animal Inspection Unit, and a further 1,174 were shot with poisoned darts fired by veterinarians from the local authorities.
“These figures do not include the thousands of dogs who were put to sleep in the kennels operated by local authorities and in the shelters of some animal protection organizations,” Levinson noted.
A 2017 joint study by Let The Animals Live and Humane Society International “counted 32,820 stray dogs in Israel,” Levinson wrote, “with some 60% found in southern Israel.”
These numbers apparently include estimates for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
If dogs are routinely shot for population control, as Levinson indicated they are in rural areas, deaths and injuries to dogs in a shooting war are only to be expected, despite the efforts of animal charities to remove dogs from the line of fire.
What became of the Sderot Animal Assisted Therapy Center?
Let The Animals Live is sheltering “more than 250 cats and dogs” at Kfar Ruth, Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb about 35 miles north of Gaza, after evacuating a satellite shelter at Ashkelon.
What has become of the Sderot Animal-Assisted Therapy Center in the city of Sderot, less than a mile from Gaza, is at the moment completely unclear.
Opened in 2016, “The animal center is one of an array of initiatives organized by the Israel Trauma Coalition, a network created in 2001 during the terrorist attacks of the second intifada, to help Israelis grappling with the traumas of conflict,” Jewish Life reported on September 2, 2023.
“Dozens” of Sderot residents were among the first people killed by the October 7, 2023 Hamas onslaught, including 11 Israeli Defense Force members and local police officers who responded to calls for help.
All survivors were evacuated the from community.
Sulala Animal Rescue update
On the Gaza side of the fighting, Sulala Animal Rescue founder Saeed Al Err relayed through an Israeli volunteer a video showing himself “with the cats now,” at one of his sons’ houses, having fled south from the five-acre Sulala Animal Rescue shelter with his family, about 400 dogs, and 130 cats.
“We got food and also water,” Saeed Al Err said, “because the water is also cut and large amount of people are without water. There is no electricity, no internet, we are cut off from the world.
“I want to assure you that thanks to your help and donations we can help the animals in the shelter and street,” Saeed Al Err continued.
“The situation is very difficult”
“We want to make videos of our work and post them but we unfortunately we don’t have internet and our team can’t send videos. Even phone calls don’t work and texts take very long to arrive. The situation is very difficult.
“The cats are south of Wadi Gaza in a safe area. The dogs are in Nuseirat. We have secured food for them and they have water, and we will work to try to make sure it stays like this and things don’t get worse. We want peace for our people and the animals. God help us.”
The British-based organization Network for Animals has issued online appeals on behalf of both Let The Animals Live and Sulala Animal Rescue.
“Checkpoints restrict access to supplies”
On the West Bank, far from the Gaza bloodshed, but also blockaded, the Animal & Environment Association of Bethlehem, Palestine, posted that “The supply of dry food for our dogs and cats is rapidly diminishing. Butcher shops, essential for providing meat for our animals, are closed, and the checkpoints restrict our access to supplies.”
The Animal & Environment Association of Bethlehem, Palestine, thanked the Dutch organization Stichting Dierenhulp “for their unwavering support.”
The West Bank has not been entirely peaceful, with 58 reported Palestinian deaths since October 7, 2023, out of about 200 Palestinian deaths in fighting so far this year, plus about 30 reported Israeli deaths.
Farmed animals are in the greatest jeopardy
Farmed animals, however, are in the greatest jeopardy, and not only because most in both Israel and Gaza are raised for either kosher or halal slaughter.
As Israeli tanks advance against Hamas, cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats occupy the no-man’s-land on both sides of the Gaza border.
Many are already among the casualties.
Farmed animals are on the front lines by design. The 1950 line of demarcation between Israel and Gaza was laid out through countryside to avoid dividing cities and towns.
Generations later, land is scarce for both Israelis and Palestinians, but both have kept border strips clear of development.
Neither side looks prosperous
From the border fence back for at least a few hundred yards on either side is farmland, mostly used for grazing, with cultivated fields beginning beyond the pastures.
Satellite photos show small plots on the Gaza side, mostly worked by hand and by donkey power. The fields on the Israeli side are only somewhat bigger. Some feature central pivot irrigation systems.
But neither side looks especially prosperous. Kibbutz farmers on the Israeli side fret that crops of potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant will go to rot, unharvested, because the border region has been evacuated.
Fields occupied by refugees
On the Gaza side, fields are occupied by some of the estimated 1.1 million displaced refugees from Gaza City and other northern communities, who fled on orders from Israel ahead of the expected invasion, despite warnings from Hamas and the League of Arab Nations to stay put.
Hamas may most fear losing their human shields.
The 22-member League of Arab Nations expressed fear that if Palestinians leave land in Gaza, the Israeli government will never allow them to return, as occurred when many Palestinians fled from fighting in 1948.
“Dairy farming suffered a very harsh blow”
Already, Navit Zomer reported for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on October 12, 2023, “Dairy farming has suffered a very harsh blow.”
Israeli Milk Producers Association chief executive Lior Simcha told Zomer, “We’ve abandoned dairies in kibbutzim that the army won’t give us access to. We’re trying to send in help to care for the cows in kibbutzim like Mefalsim, but the army won’t let us anywhere near them. The dairies at Nahal Oz, Alumim, and Be’eri,” all hit by Hamas on October 7, 2023, “are finished. We’re talking about thousands of cows. Some have died and others will. It’s a disaster.”
Agreed Anat Gross-Shon of the Tnuva dairy company, “If no one gets there today or tomorrow to feed and milk the cows, there will be no dairy farms. The Israel Cattle Breeders Association is now trying to find a solution to save the cows. We managed to collect milk from the kibbutzim the army allowed us to access: Yad Mordechai, Urim, Tze’elim and Gevim.
Wrote Zomer, “The Israel Dairy Council said that, following several days of no milking in the communities surrounding Gaza due to heavy fighting, the dairy farmers have managed to return to some of the dairy farms and assess the damage. The damage is enormous: Animals have been injured. Dairy facilities smashed up and riddled with bullets. Buildings and equipment have been thrown around, looted or set on fire.
“At present,” Zomer said, “11 out of 16 milk-producing communities around Gaza that were attacked are producing some amount of milk,” meaning that at least some cows survived.
“In a further five communities,” Zomer reported, “the damage caused to the infrastructure and the cows does not allow for milk production.”
Since cows can be milked by hand if need be, this indicates that the cows were killed.
Ironically, in view of the current food scarcity in Gaza, “Israeli inspectors from the Agriculture Ministry have successfully intercepted smuggling attempts of large quantities of frozen fish and eggs into the country this week from the Gaza Strip,” the Jerusalem Post reported on September 26, 2023, just 11 days before the Hamas raids on the kibbutz farms.
“The agricultural crimes unit of the Agriculture Ministry targeted smugglers seeking to profit from diverting these products from Palestinian Authority territories,” the Jerusalem Post said.
Many of the foreign nationals killed or kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, 2023 were farm workers from Thailand, Mexico, and elsewhere, Ryn Jirenuwat and Sui-Lee Wee reported for the New York Times from Bangkok, Thailand, profiling Kiattisak Patee, 35, “a chicken-farm worker feared to be one of 14 Thai citizens abducted by Palestinian gunmen.”