restricted access Animal Frontiers: A Tale of Three Zoos in Israel/Palestine
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Animal Frontiers:
A Tale of Three Zoos in Israel/Palestine

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—Chava Alberstein, "The Gazelle" (translated from Hebrew by author)

Thursday, June 23, 2011. I am finally making my way to the Qalqilya Zoo. Carefully following the instructions I jotted down the night before, I promise myself that my next research site will not be situated across conflicted borders. My cell phone rings; it is my mother. Although she has been living in Israel since 1959, she has never set foot in the place I am headed to. "Don't you care about your children?" she pleads with me. I explain that it took almost a month to organize this trip and that I am not traveling through the border alone, but with an acclaimed Israeli veterinarian who knows his way around the West Bank. I hope I sound more confident than I really am.

Fifty minutes after leaving Jerusalem, I am at the border. Although I have arrived on time, no one is waiting for me. I sigh, reflecting back on the efforts it took to coordinate this visit. My study of Israeli-Palestinian zoos began at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo, officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem. It was fairly easy to track down the zoo's central staff; and for the most part, they responded quite readily to my request to interview them. During May and June 2011, I interviewed a number of personnel from Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo and from the other major zoo in Israel: Ramat Gan's Safari, [End Page 122] officially known as the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan. Although the interviewees mentioned the unique relationship between the Biblical and the Qalqilya Zoos, initially they were unable to provide me with meaningful contact information for the latter zoo. Eventually, I managed to speak with the veterinarian of the Qalqilya Zoo, who invited me for a visit. It then took a couple of weeks to figure out how to physically reach the zoo, located in what Israel defines as Area "A" of the occupied West Bank and legally inaccessible to Israelis. Just before giving up on the visit, I found out that in a few days' time the Safari Zoo's former veterinarian, Dr. Motke Levison, would be transporting an animal from Ramat Gan's Safari, at the center of Israel, to the Qalqilya Zoo, on the western edge of the West Bank. I decided to join the ride, and now I am waiting to meet him at the border.

I wait for a little while longer and then call Levison. He is in the parking lot, he says, transferring the animal from the Safari's keeper. I rush to witness the transaction that has made my visit to the Qalqilya Zoo possible. When I arrive at the parking lot, Levison is signing paperwork. The animal—a member of the raccoon family known as a coati—is already in the rear of the car, and I am invited in, too. Escorted by an Israeli veterinarian and a caged coati, my journey across the Israel-West Bank border and into human-animal frontiers thus begins.

If I thought it was difficult to arrange a visit to the Qalqilya Zoo, visiting the Gaza Zoo was truly impossible. It was difficult to determine whether a zoo in Gaza even exists. I found bits and pieces of information on the Internet, but how to trace the actual people? None of my interviewees at the Israeli or Qalqilya Zoos had any associations with the Gaza Zoo, only forty-eight miles away. As it happened, I was invited to present my work at the French Cultural Center in Jerusalem and met several people with connections to the French Consulate in Gaza. Two months later, a consulate official sent me a cell phone number for the founder of Gaza's zoo, veterinarian Dr. Saud Shawa. I was pleasantly surprised when the number worked. Under present circumstances and given my identity as a Jewish Israeli, it was impossible for me to visit the zoo. However, my...