GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The second and largest exhibition for pigeon enthusiasts and breeders in the Palestinian territories took place in Gaza April 7-9. Turnout was high, including the participation of 170 breeders and 250 pairs of rare and fancy pigeons. Gaza's first gathering of this kind was held in April 2015.
The exhibition was held in Gaza City's Saad Sayel arena and was organized by a popular Facebook group called Pigeons in Palestine, followed by over 13,000 pigeon enthusiasts and breeders from Palestine.
Coordinator Mohammed al-Ghoul told Al-Monitor, “We have been preparing for this since 2007, and Facebook played a major role in gathering this huge number of pigeon enthusiasts, most of them young. We sent out many invitations to many people, including some in Jordan, Egypt, Arabian Gulf [countries] and Oman, but they could not attend because of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and the closure of crossings.”
He explained that the coordinating committee for the exhibition contacted Nasser Al Hindi, the head of the Jordanian Society of Breeders and Enthusiasts of Pigeons and Ornamental Birds. The group invited the Omani Association for Bird Enthusiasts as well as various figures from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman to participate. Because of the closure of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, they were unable to attend, but expressed support and encouragement for the exhibition.
The exhibition showcased various pigeon breeds such as the American King, the English Carrier, the German Beauty Homer, the Egyptian Swift, the homing pigeon, the Bolo pigeon and the Maltese pigeon, in addition to others coming from al-Sham in Syria, through Jordan and the West Bank.
Abu Wadih Jadallah, another of the exhibition's coordinators, told Al-Monitor, “Israel had prevented the entry of pigeons into the Gaza Strip because of the bird flu. But we were allowed to import them in 2011, and we used to communicate with Israeli traders in order to import certain breeds from Europe through traders in Jerusalem and the West Bank who would bring in these breeds in small boxes through the Erez crossing.”
Jadallah noted that the prices of imported rare breeds range from $2,000 to $5,000, adding, “We contacted Nassim al-Rajbi, a pigeon breeder and enthusiast from Jerusalem, to import the rare English Carrier pigeon, with black and white spots, from Hungary. Over four months later, we received the pigeons through the Erez crossing. After the Syrian crisis broke out, many pigeons from Damascus such as the Syrian Wheatear and the Mesawed entered through breeders in Jordan into the West Bank and then the Gaza Strip.”
In the absence of international judges, the pigeons are evaluated according to international standards for the birds’ facial features, neck length, eye spacing and leg length. Those with the highest scores receive monetary prizes and awards that increase their market price.
Pigeon breeder and seller Fahad Hameed, 65, was surprised by the high youth turnout. He told Al-Monitor, “Most of the visitors are young people. Some of them are not even 20, and they own pigeons of excellent breeds allowing them to compete with breeders and enthusiasts who have kept pigeons for decades.”
He pointed out that the youth are developing beautiful hobbies in a bid to escape the harsh economic, political and psychological realities that they suffer in the Gaza Strip. This, he added, explains the enthusiasm to purchase pigeons of excellent breeding, whose price ranges from $2,000 to $5,000.
Breeder Assaad Essi, 28, told Al-Monitor, “The exhibition served as a meeting point for us amateurs and young breeders of pigeons, and we were able to convey a message to the world that we love life; we can compete in art, culture and beautiful hobbies.”
Essi expressed his wish to take part in international exhibitions to improve the breed he has, raise new pairs and compete for global awards.
Asked how the exhibition affected supply and demand in the domestic pigeon market, Iyad Abu Obeida, 36, told Al-Monitor, “The exhibition is clearly working to revitalize the pigeon market in Gaza. As pigeon breeders, we noted a rise in demand for rare pigeons, and we have established contact with Palestinian merchants in the West Bank to supply additional quantities of English Carrier pigeons, Damascene pigeons and homing pigeons.”
Homing pigeon enthusiast Amjad Jradeh, 29, told Al-Monitor, “There is a clear lack of veterinary care for pigeons. Owners of veterinary clinics lack the necessary experience to deal with pigeon diseases, such as flu, Salmonella and gas buildup, and the clinics provide costly, self-produced medications that often kill the pigeons.”
Regarding the Ministry of Agriculture’s support for pigeon breeders, Essi told Al-Monitor, “The Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza does not provide us with plastic anklets for the pigeon's legs. Also, it fails to provide us with the necessary medicines and proper health care, and it does not monitor the pigeon-importation process to see whether the pigeons are infected. Moreover, the food used, such as wheat, ends up harming the health of the birds.”
The pigeon breeders’ criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Gaza Strip prompted Al-Monitor to communicate with the head of the ministry's Veterinary Department, Zakaria Kafarna, who told Al-Monitor, “There are a great number of breeders and enthusiasts and they have now come to organize themselves into groups, and they are adding new types of pigeons. It is not the job of the ministry to provide medicines and plastic bands for pigeons, as there are private veterinary clinics that sell them. Pigeon breeders should provide us with a list of medicines that are not available in the market so that we ask traders to import them.”
Due to the blockade imposed on Gaza, pigeon breeders are unable to import medicines to treat diseases that infect birds despite several drug-smuggling attempts via the Erez crossing.
The organizers of the exhibition hope that through this initiative, a formal association or institution will form and bring together all of the Gaza Strip's enthusiasts and breeders, and that the exhibition will be organized on an annual basis.
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