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A zoo inside a large, open-air prison

Lazeez the tiger may have been rescued from an appalling situation, but that is no thanks to Israel, which is responsible for creating that situation and those appalling conditions in the first place
Four Paws workers at Gaza Zoo
Four Paws workers at Gaza Zoo

The world watched intently the touching story of a tiger rescued from miserable conditions in a zoo with very scarce resources. That zoo is now best known as the worst of its kind in the world. The story ended at this point in most media coverage: beautiful beast; better life elsewhere; happy ending. It would, though, have been useful to explain that the zoo’s main problem is that it is located within a very large open-air prison called the Gaza Strip, which lies at the south-west corner of the Mediterranean Sea.

Saving a few creatures while the cameras are rolling is certainly a noble and impressive act and the animal rights organisation involved deserves to be congratulated for a successful mission. It was a symbolic mission, however, as it will not solve the dilemma faced by all of the Palestinians living in Gaza.

The significance of this event is that the Gaza Strip is changing under the pressure of immoral policies; very soon it will – in the words of UN officials – be “unliveable”. In reality, therefore, saving a tiger or whatever from Gaza’s zoo does not mean a happy ending, because the conditions which caused the animals so much distress are still the same; indeed, they are getting worse, for human beings as well as the animals.

Furthermore, this situation is not the result of a natural disaster or a crisis of resources; the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is entirely manmade. Politicians in Israel sat around a table and made a conscious decision to impose a siege on the Gaza Strip, home to two million people and many other creatures, including Lazeez (“Delicious”) the tiger; it has lasted for more than 10 years. Lazeez is lucky to have escaped from the systematic misery imposed on everyone in the territory. The Israel-led siege stifles all possibilities of a decent life. One of its consequences is that Gaza now has the worst zoo in the world. Moreover, the tiger is not the only creature to be affected; livestock on Gaza’s farms also suffer, along with the farmers; and plants and crops are damaged as the environment takes a hit too. Israel must be held to account for this catastrophe, for which it is entirely responsible.

Instead, we are being fed the propaganda that Israel has helped to give Lazeez a better life; that Israel cares about animals and that it maintains high humanitarian and moral standards. Such propaganda would have us ignore the siege instigated and led by Israel which created the conditions about which the animal rights group was so concerned. Believe me, the conditions for every living thing in Gaza are miserable, not just at the zoo.

The Israeli siege has damaged Gaza immeasurably. Its frequent military offensives target livestock and poultry, destroying not only the animals but also the livelihoods of their owners. The environment has also been targeted, destroying the local biosphere, with knock-on effects for all creatures, including migratory birds. All of this is in addition to Israel’s destruction of the infrastructure necessary for sustainable human existence. Hence, the UN warning about Gaza becoming “unliveable”.

Lazeez the tiger may have been rescued from an appalling situation, but that is no thanks to Israel, which is responsible for creating that situation and those appalling conditions in the first place. The animal rights group has done its job in this instance; now it’s time for the human rights groups to have similar success.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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