GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Australian media reported on April 7 that Australian government authorities had decided to ban live cattle exports to Gaza after an investigation into footage showing calves being mistreated there. In December, Animals Australia posted several images and videos online of the brutal slaughter and ill-treatment of cattle in the streets of Gaza City. The group said some of the abused cattle were identifiable by plastic tags attached to their ears.
Muin Rajab, an economics professor at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said the Australian decision could lead to a real crisis in Gaza if other countries follow suit. Rajab told Al-Monitor that a decrease in supply in local markets would naturally result in a dramatic rise in prices. Tahsin al-Sakka, general director of marketing and crossings in the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture, disagreed, arguing that the Australian measure was of little significance because Gaza imports cattle from Israel, not directly from Australia. Sakka told Al-Monitor, “This decision does not concern us, but rather concerns Israel, which imports cattle from several locations, including Australia, South America and France.”
Saka estimated Gaza's monthly demand for cattle at around 3,000 head. When asked what would happen if Israel stopped exporting cattle to Gaza because of the Australian decision, Sakka replied, “There will be a crisis of course, since Israel is our only source of livestock. We no longer have any other alternatives, especially after the border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt were closed.”
The slaughtering festival
During Islamic holidays, Muslims take part in cattle-slaughtering ceremonies of ritual sacrifice. The atmosphere is typically festive, with family members and neighbors coming together. The government does not prescribe the method in which cattle are slaughtered, but it is supposed to be done, according to Islamic principles, in a humane fashion. It is not unusual, however, for dozens of people to be injured during the holidays by animals breaking away, trying to escape, because of the acts committed against them and methods used to incapacitate and kill them.
According to information obtained by the al-Watan newspaper, medical sources reported 125 injuries among Gazans during the Eid al-Adha in October 2013 — 55 cases in the southern Gaza Strip, 30 in central Gaza, and 40 in Gaza City and the north. Ibrahim al-Sheikh, a well-known butcher in the north, said that the slaughter of cattle by unqualified persons is “disgusting and violates Islamic values related to slaughter.” He told Al-Monitor, “Relying on persons who are not experienced in slaughter violates the [Islamic] principles regarding slaughtering animals in the least painful way. These violations often cause the animals to break free, which increases the chances of them being brutally killed, either by being shot or run over with trucks.”
Concerning the lack of governmental supervision over average citizens' slaughtering cattle, Sakka, from the Ministry of Agriculture, said, “We advise that the cattle be slaughtered within official slaughterhouses to ensure a clean process. Yet, at the same time, we cannot take away the freedom of people to slay these animals in front of their homes during festivities.” He also noted the difficulty of tracking violations committed during such slaughtering.
The Australians' action has sparked a wave of sarcasm and scorn among Palestinians in Gaza, not because of the export ban, but because of their apparent concern about the treatment of animals while not taking a stance against the violations Palestinians experience at the hands of Israel.
Sumaya Khazandar, a university student, told Al-Monitor, “Australia felt sad for the way animals were treated, yet it did not feel a thing when Israel hideously slayed 1,500 Palestinians during the aggression against Gaza in December 2008.” She said, “This decision provokes the feelings of Palestinians.”
Mohammad Abu Jayyab, an economics researcher, mocked the Australians in “Calves are lucky,” an article published April 9 in Al-Eqtesadia. He wrote in part, “People die. Children are hungry. Patients are besieged. Medicines do not get through. Tanks run over people. The economy is collapsed. Factories are destroyed. The water is cut off. And the skies are shut in the face of everything that is Palestinian. Yet, we do not find one protector or supporter from the international community for the most recently occupied people in modern history.”
Abu Jayyab continued, “I am not expressing my anger toward Australia, but I am clearly asking if it is possible to find more countries that will defend the dignity of Palestinians, boycott Israel and take measures that can deter [Israel] and lead it to halt the aggression, killing and running over of Palestinians with tanks, like the Australian calves found a country with dignity and laws that respect humans as humans and animals as animals?”
Ayman al-Aloul, a journalist known for his stand-up comedy shows, spoke on the issue in a video posted to YouTube. He asserted, “The countries that are concerned about the way their cattle are treated by Palestinians are not concerned about the Israeli blockade and continuous bombardment of the Palestinians. To those we say, “Forget international pacts and human rights, consider us calves.’”
Sakka concurred with Aloul's take on the situation, observing, “It is absurd for a country with such international status to make these decisions while thousands of Muslims are getting killed in Syria and Egypt without raising any objection.”