A dismaying examination of Israelis, Palestinians, and animals living in a divided city beset by the “politics of fear.”
As the co-editor of Shifting Sands: The Unraveling of the Old Order in the Middle East, (2016), an editor of Jerusalem Quarterly, and a researcher and founding member of the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine, the author is well-situated to write this book. She chronicles the history of humans and their working animals’ coexistence and cooperation as well as their shared suffering throughout the decades within this tumultuous region. Those unfamiliar with the history of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will experience a learning curve, but the author’s meticulously researched narrative, dotted with well-chosen and eloquent passages from literature and fables, is instructive and accessible. Johnson offers evocative, evenhanded reports on her unhurried visits to herding communities and leisurely conversations with peasant farmers and families in their homes and elsewhere throughout the occupied area. Within her entertaining study of the populations of gazelles, jackals, wild boars, and wolves as well as working animals in the region, she demonstrates a special affinity for peaceful, hardworking donkeys, explaining how they have been used not only in the current Middle East conflict, but also in both world wars—sadly, sometimes as conveyances of explosive devices. In addition to her stories about the experiences of the animals in the region, Johnson reviews the difficult issues involved in environmental and animal protection. As she notes, she has “learned from the wisdom of the donkeys and the whispers from the wild, as well as from a new generation of Palestinian environmental activists, that there are other ways of inhabiting a land that we all claim to love.” Many of the author’s tales are inevitably distressing and melancholy but necessary nonetheless.
Johnson successfully illustrates the sense of dread for all parties—Israelis, Palestinians, and, yes, even animals—affected by “the raw nerve of Israel/Palestine politics.”