In June 2015, PALS Trustee, Craig Redmond, visited Palestine as part of our ongoing skills exchange between our UK and Palestinian teams. Here, he reflects on his visit and what he learned while he was there.
All photos in this report (c) Craig Redmond/PAL
Having recently returned from my first visit to Palestine to work with PAL, I now have the difficult task of putting that experience into words; difficult because it was a fortnight of immense highs and lows.
Having not visited before I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of people. Walking through towns by myself, countless people said, in English, ‘welcome to Palestine’, invited me into bars (ones in mainly Muslim towns don’t serve alcohol) for games of pool or offered me endless cups of sugary tea. And when they saw my camera, many stopped me to ask if I could take their picture.
There were two main reasons for my visit. Firstly, as a Trustee of PALS it’s important for me to see the work in the occupied territories for myself and understand what PALS can do to help. Secondly, as a photographer I was recording the work of PAL and the range of animal protection issues as well as running some photography workshops with volunteers.
What I quickly learned is that animal welfare at a very basic level is poorly understood. I came across countless examples: dogs and cats caged in pet shops with no water; dead and dying horses tied up in fields that were so dry they offered no food, water or shade from the intense sun.
We filmed at what was, in effect, a private zoo with, amongst other animals, a jackal, porcupines, ostriches, owl and an osprey in the most appalling conditions. The native animals (all but the ostriches) were probably taken from the wild. Around a dozen dogs were also chained or caged, used for breeding. At another property we found a very young gazelle in a tiny cage, being fattened for slaughter. Again she was probably taken from the wild and her sibling had already died. With no animal welfare laws (something we are working on already) none of these things are illegal.
We have investigated many other areas of animal use (including farming and slaughter) and are particularly concerned at the introduction of factory farming. Many people have a few hens in their yard for eggs but we filmed at one commercial unit that had 50,000 hens. This is something that needs addressing before it spreads across the whole of Palestine.
Despite the horrors I’ve seen, most of this does not appear to be deliberate cruelty but rather a lack of understanding of animal welfare. PAL is working hard to educate on this, which leads me on to the positives of my trip.
At Al-Quds University I ran a two-session participatory photography workshop with students who have worked with PAL. This looked at how photography is a powerful medium for helping people understand crucial issues (such as animal protection) and how it can empower those on the ground to report on issues that affect them, to the outside world. We ended by discussing projects relating to animal protection for the students to do and we will keep in contact to work on this.
A situation in Abu Dis really made me aware of how the occupation impacts on people’s attitudes to animals. I was invited to hold a photography workshop with a group of young kids at a summer camp. We went out into the streets to take photos and came across a dog chained up. The dog was scared as the group approached and one boy threw a stone at him. When we discussed this later the group failed to recognise any of the signs of the dog being frightened and said that the dog was threatening them (the dog had backed away from the kids and cowered behind a tree. He would have run away if he wasn’t chained). I was informed by one of the group leaders that the only time many kids come into contact with dogs is when the Israeli Army use them during house raids, protests and checkpoints, or Israeli settlers deliberately release ‘dangerous’ dogs. Much of PAL’s work is focussed on changing these attitudes and teaching respect to all animals.
Every year PAL holds a fun day for kids and in light of the incident above this was perfect timing. Around 600 people attended and kids had a great time while also learning about why they should be kind to animals, not visit zoos, etc. I particularly loved the idea of an Italian volunteer who got children to think what it would be like if they were a dog chained up all the time with no freedom, completely dependent on a person to bring them food and water.
In Ramallah I supported PAL’s Young Journalists for Animal Welfare team in making a short video of people’s opinions on animal rights. I was impressed by their intelligence and the professional way they approached people to interview in the street. Together, we edited a 5-minute video to promote their work. There is a huge amount to be done but the team at PAL (all are volunteers) are amazing and they have a wide range of work where everyone can find what suits them best. I’m already excited about returning again, and next time for a much longer period.