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Israel, Cats and a CAT-astrophe

1 January 1970

In their short-lived 40-year-reign at the end of the crumbling empire, the British did a mixture of wonderful and catastrophic things, the latter whose negative implications stretched far and wide.nnBut let’s look on the bright side and start with the good.nnWhen General Allenby entered the city during Hannukah at the end of the First World War, he famously and respectfully dismounted from his horse – drumming the message home that he did not come as a conqueror. Having suffered so much under the Turks, it is hardly surprising that many a Jewish person was filled with hope, and saw the British victory over their Muslim oppressors as ushering in the days of Messiah.nnThe British are to be commended for their immediate DIY efforts to ensure that there was a supply of clean water for the residents of the neglected city. Their handiwork ensured that for the first time in 2000 years, Jerusalem once again had running water. In order to beautify the ancient city, the British authorities passed a law restricting the height of buildings inside the walls, and stipulated that all new constructions in Jerusalem must be built with a special pinkish white limestone quarried near Bethlehem -famously known today as Jerusalem Stone.n

“Over two million feral cats, a plague that haunts Israel until this very day”

nDue to the British previous ambiguous promises given to both Arab and Jew, conflict about the land soon ignited and things turned sour. Both sides felt betrayed. A keen British interest in Arab oil needed to maintain an empire on the brink, saw to it that the British sided with the Arabs. Jewish people were soon not only fighting the Arabs and Hitler, but also clandestinely fighting the British as well. Of all the empire’s misdemeanours during that time, forbidding tens of thousands of European Jewish refugees from entering the Land of Israel before the Second World War and deny entry to a few thousand Holocaust survivors after the war, is the most searing and unforgivable of British felonies in the Jewish mind.nnA less famous – albeit well-meaning British policy that turned sour, was literally a CAT-astrophe. It is the story of over two million feral cats, a plague that haunts Israel until this very day and which also began at the end of the First World War.nnUpon conquest of the Holy Land, the British discovered – to their horror – that the Turks had so much neglected the Old City of Jerusalem, that it was infested with rats. The most cost-effective and efficient way for the authorities to deal with these disease-carrying rodents was to bring in the heavies: they brought in the cats.nnEver since, life for both humans and animals in Israel, has never quite been the same.nnToday, there are an estimated over-2 million feral cats in Israel, with over quarter of a million of them roaming the streets of Jerusalem. Because of Israel’s temperate climate, mother cats easily caught on that it was the ideal place to raise a family. Each female can have up to 3 litters in a year which averages around 15 kittens per mommy. These ancestors of the British cats have bred like rabbits.nnOpen dumpsters and garbage cans are the choice feline equivalent to restaurants, but when these “eating venues” are running low on food (meaning the rubbish has been taken away), cats turn to nature and go for the kill thus harming the ecology and the environment.nnTargets are lizards, snakes, and chameleons who are crucial in the balance of the food chain. Birds are hunted too which has a detrimental effect on farmer’s crops because it is the birds who serve as a natural pesticide against animals and bugs which destroy the crops.nnStray cats also threaten the health of domesticated cats – of which there are tens of thousands in Israeli homes. Strays can carry diseases which if untreated can cause blindness in both the carrying stray and the house kitty it comes into contact with.nnIt would seem to a logical mind that sterilisation could control the stray cat population. To do this however, Israel would need to sterilise within six months over eighty percent of all unwanted felines in the land. It takes a lot of people to catch over a million feral cats and sterilisation of course, costs money.nnBut these are not the only objections. A few years ago, a government minister openly opposed sterilising feral cats as because it ran counter to the religious and ideological beliefs of various segments of Israel’s population. He cited Jewish law against animal cruelty and reminded the human population here in the land of a biblical commandment to populate the earth: which in his mind included stray cats. The Biblical injunction, he thought, provided a strong argument against neutering. His alternative solution provided an unexpected national giggle. The minister decided to advocate for the deportation of either all the male or female cats. With a little chilling dose of humour rooted in Jewish European history, the Hebrew hashtag for “cat deportation” was trending all over social media, with one comment trending as, “we are going to war against cats in the name of God.”n

“At the heart of this light-hearted yet serious matter, lays something deeper: a conversation of how religious should Israel be as a Jewish state”

nLove them or hate them, cats are divisive. Some people in the big cities in Israel love all cats everywhere, and refuse to call these scruffy felines “strays.” To them they are “community cats.” This term of affection often annoys others – especially dog people – who see the wandering strays as a menace. “Pests,” is what dog people call the strays. Many of Israel’s cat people come from the upper-socio-economic class who splash out their spare money to take care of the beloved “community cats.” But it doesn’t lead to good feeling with the dog people. Cats have only slaves and no masters and if the cat wishes, he would jump into the house of a dog person and make himself at home. So, the good deeds of those engaging in charitable efforts to keep the numbers of felines down taming them to sterilize them and improve their lives, remains (as every other issue in Israel) controversial by some until this day.nnAt the heart of this light-hearted yet serious matter, lays something deeper: a conversation of how religious should Israel be as a Jewish state. Little issues as how to deal with strays are the very things which ignite juicy debates about if, how and when, to follow Jewish law. Like with many things in our relative new-born country, the outcome can often be a difficult dialogue with the problem remaining unsolved. But in the case of the feral cats, if the issue remains unfunded, we may not even have a Jewish state in the future, because if these strays keep reproducing at their current rate, they will surpass the people population, conquer the land, and that would be a CATastrophe.nn