Pathological altruist workaholic that I am, including on Sundays, I was sitting at my desk practising keyboard-slavery when something caused me to look up. There, outside the window, was a mid-sized raptor – perhaps a hawk or falcon – doing that characteristic alternating wing-quivering hover that only raptors do. Now, as every photographer knows, the best shots appear when you don’t have your camera at hand. Yes indeed, by the time I’d dug it out, the bird was gone. Sorry, I can’t show you a photo! But it felt like a visitation.
Eileen in Warrington has asked me about birds in Palestine, and I discuss wildlife a lot with Suzy in Falmouth so, thank you ladies, in response to your promptings I’ve pulled together some pictures of Palestinian animals! I haven’t focused on animal photography while here but, like any self-respecting hunter, a photographer shoots anything interesting that presents itself and I’ve caught a few interesting animals over time.
Photography is in a sense harder than hunting: a hunter just has to kill the poor thing, but a photographer needs to shoot it at exactly the right moment and from exactly the right position to get a good picture. Often it’s luck or a kind of lens and shutter magic. The poor thing survives the experience too – it even perhaps thrives psychically from the positive attention of faraway people like you, dear readers.
People in Palestine sometimes ask me why I’m a vegetarian – as if I’m slightly bonkers, missing something, or another example of the weirdnesses of Westerners. I simply tell them, “Well, humans treat animals like Israelis treat Palestinians”. They get the analogy immediately, and you can see them thinking that one through.
Though to be fair, there are fine Israelis who don’t abuse and even help Palestinians, sometimes accused by Zionists of being self-hating Jews or even traitors, and there are good humans who not only avoid harming animals but also go to great lengths to help them.
Yet there’s one thing Israelis and Palestinians don’t do. They don’t hunt. All the guns around here are for using on humans. Compared with France or Italy, even peaceable Sweden, this country is a haven for animals – at least regarding hunting. There’s tremendous habitat destruction, yes, but the only hunters around here, apart from cats, are oddbods like me with telephoto lenses – also usually aimed at humans – who have this crazy habit of photographing animals. So conflicts do have their positive unintended consequences – in this case, animals are spared the dubious pleasure of being hunted down by voracious killer humanoids.
During this trip, I seem to have been focusing on cats. This might be the good influence of Polly, a Cornish cat who died last July, who clearly tugged at my heart and made me more aware of cats. But it also has something to do with the character of Palestinian cats – they’re not pets, and they have to fend for themselves, so they have some zing and character to them. Some of the town cats are pretty scraggy though – country cats seem to do better than they.
I also like photographing donkeys. Perhaps they remind me of myself, silent load-bearers who occasionally bray plaintively to remind everyone they’re still here. People still ignore them, but at least they try – a bit like fundraising for Hope Flowers school. Or perhaps, having been born next door to Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Aker Wood in the Ashdown Forest, part of me adopted the persona of Eeyore. It matters little, in the grand scheme of things. But donkeys are another subject that has been sucked into my lens and digitally exuded onto your screen.
I get into trouble occasionally with some ‘proper’, politically-correct Palestine activists because I don’t bellyache about all the bad things the Israelis are doing to the poor, suffering Palestinians, and how we must stop this, ban and boycott that, and how we must see Palestine as a terrible field of horror, injustice and genocide with no redeeming graces at all. Sure, there are terrible things here. But cats and donkeys are part of reality here. Donkeys happen also to be a wise reserve mode of transport in case oil supplies break down or the Israelis impose a total shutdown of normal economic activity. They haven’t done this for a few years, but you never know, the Israelis like to keep everyone guessing, including themselves.
Besides, what really engages me is not railing against bad guys but building the foundations of the future and helping Palestinians see where their strengths are. Seeing your strengths and the advantage in your situation is the beginning of a change for the better. Moaning about what’s wrong and what’s gone is simply a recipe for depression, defeat and victimhood. Growing up in 1960s Liverpool, a failing city and home of many a comedian, made me aware that humour, even as wry as mine, can be just as sharply political as righteous tub-thumping.
What are Palestinians’ strengths? Perseverance, resilience, adaptability and spiritedness. This puts them in a strong position to meet the future. We’re going to see some tough, exacting and tumultuous times ahead, worldwide. The astrologer in me says watch out for a wave of precipitous events in June-July – the buildup is surreptitiously beginning now. The people who will best ride out these times are those who are most practised at doing so, who have developed the psychology and values within themselves to enable them to handle whatever comes and turn it to advantage. In this, Palestinians are in a strong position.
As I mention in Pictures of Palestine, they will have a lot to contribute to the aid teams of the future. It won’t be food and building materials they’re dishing out but knowledge and experience – psycho-social input. They’ll show people how to take things by the horns, tough it out and find their own solutions. This is the aid and disaster-relief of the future. It is a strength Palestinians have. Meanwhile, many people in Europe and America, and in the Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai belt – the people who have been ‘successful’ in recent times – will be lost if the electricity and internet go down, or if it all boils down to making a feast out of a bag of potatoes.
There are lots of positive things about Palestine, many of them arising from the conflict – I mention them in my book. Palestinians have a strong society. If something goes wrong, they improvise and cooperate. If a crisis is afoot, they don’t stand around expecting help. They’ve even learned how to stay calm and restrain themselves if their houses are raided by Israeli soldiers.
Talking of which, as I write, late at night, two helicopters are hovering around, about 5,000ft up and a mile away. They have that deep thumping sound of military helicopters and, guess what, the Palestinians have none, so it’s not them. They’ve been hovering and circling around for twenty minutes over the southern edge of Bethlehem. Doing surveillance, I’d bet. They might be after someone. They plant a device on a car, or connive a collaborator to carry a specially-fixed mobile phone, and they track people. One helicopter has now come over this way, with the other remaining where it was. It’s doing a loop to go round the north edge of Bethlehem, and there’s another one coming in from the west, quite low. Any advance on three?
Well, some people would panic at this, starting to wonder whether their time had come. It prompted me to put the kettle on. Other people round here simply note the intrusion and carry on with life. Which sums up the attitude of resilience Palestinians have: you can eat your heart out, year after year, over all the atrocities big and small that happen here, or you can get on with life. If you get on with life you’ll live longer, achieve more and be happier. Never mind what ought to be, what shouldn’t be, what might have been or what wasn’t – this doesn’t help at all. After all, it’s the Israelis (or American taxpayers) who are paying thousands to keep those helicopters afloat, and it’s the pilots who are sweating more than the people underneath them.
Meanwhile, the kettle having boiled, I made myself some Saudi Arabian cocoa with honey in it, to help generate a few endorphins. I could swallow a mugful of endorphins right now, if I could, but cocoa will do. One of the helicopters is now window-rattlingly close. The pilot’s kids back home are probably experiencing a gap in their lives where their father ought to be standing. It’s all so farcical, so tragi-comic.
Over the wall, just over there, are some smug, hubristic settlers who think they’re winning their war to retake the land that God allegedly gave them. Yet, the social subgroup in this land with the highest incidence of family violence is the settler community. I don’t get the feeling that was part of God’s design. Meanwhile, on this side of the wall, these losers, these Ay-rabs, who’ve lost five wars and a thousand small battles, are sitting at home with their grannies, kids, cousins and in-laws, watching Arabiya TV. They’ve lost, so they’re making the best of it.
We humans are really mad, but at least we have the capacity to explain things to ourselves. We can say, “Ah, that’s a helicopter”, and then go about putting the kettle on. But animals cannot do this – they don’t know what the hell these noisy monsters are. Even the wild dogs over around the separation wall must be cowering under a rock, fearing the worst and hoping these fearsome dragons will fly away.
Little do they know, these dragons each cost 10,000 shekels (£2,000) a minute to keep afloat up there – and, in the end, for what? For sovereignty over someone else’s land? To fulfil a covenant with God? To create happiness and security for the Chosen People? No, it’s human illusion at its worst. It frightens the animals – even ants will feel the thudding resonances of these choppers deep in their anthills. I bet a few of the settler kids over the wall have been woken up by it too. “Dad, is this what God meant the world to be like?”
If my friends and I have anything to do with it, in our future lives we’ll be living in a very different world, where military helicopters are as distantly incredible as medieval Crusaders on their steeds are to us now. Palestinians will be amongst the creators of that world. The people at the butt-end of the ‘progress’ we’ve had in recent times will probably be the people who save the day, even saving those who have so generously given them a hard time.
Yes, Palestinians could one day rescue Israelis from a sorry, partially self-created fate. It happened in a small way just recently, down south of Hebron – an Israeli settler bus caught fire, and guess who rescued them? Just today I saw a bumper sticker on someone’s car: After all, we’re all humans, it said, in English and Arabic.
I’m off down to Egypt in a week’s time. I’m going for a break, to warm up, to hobnob with some Germans and, hopefully, inshallah, to renew my visa until spring equinox. If, that is, they let me back in, alien hazel-eyed goyim that I am. So you might get a week’s break from your blog-reading obligations, bless you. Then again, you might not.
It was that hawk who prompted this particular blog entry. Wisely, the hawk doesn’t care whether it’s Palestinian or Israeli. It’s not worried about apartheid either – it flies where it wants, with no official papers. Today it was either enjoying itself, or doing a much more discreet surveillance job than those helicopters, or it was hunting for its dinner, or all of these combined.
While a raptor has far superior weaponry to its prey, just like Israeli soldiers, it uses far more strategy, skill and subtlety than Israelis employ. It doesn’t demolish its prey’s homes or devastate their habitat. Raptors and their prey are symbiotic, and if one side goes down, the other side suffers too. Same with Israelis and Palestinians: if either gets rid of the other or treats it too harshly, they themselves will suffer. I wish everyone would realise how symbiotic Israelis and Palestinians are. In conflicts of relationship, it always takes two to tango. However, what’s disturbing for many Israelis is that most Palestinians want to change the dance music – hence that Israelis are getting het up about Iranians instead.
“War isn’t about who is right, it’s about who is left”, said Bertrand Russell. And humans treat animals like Israelis treat Palestinians. And in the end, we’re all sentient beings, with an equal right to live on this Earth. Would that we had more equanimity. Equanimity would lead to greater social and global equality, also known as sharing.
The helicopters are now four in number. They’re busy burning money to keep the world safe, to save us from terrible terrorists in places like Bethlehem. Really, we should support them – they’re fighting for God at all hours of the day and night, protecting democracy and freedom. They’re keeping the peace! Protecting civilisation from barbarians! Creating much-needed jobs in the arms trade! Just obeying orders!
Nonetheless, something suddenly happened to drive them away. After a lovely sunny day and a crisp evening, a mighty cloud rolled over the hill from the west and it started hailing! The hail battered at the windows, wanting to get in. Must’ve been quite a squall, up there where the helicopters were. They scarpered. God must have had enough noise for one evening. Or, if the helicopters were tracking someone, perhaps it was their lucky day.
For a complete collection of these animal pictures, click here.