Since almost two months now I am working on a Palestinian farm surrounded by settlements – more on the project maybe in another article. Today I want to share with you an observation I have made about my relationship with the animals I am taking care of. All our animals have a very strong will for freedom and since it’s not only my job to feed and clean them, but also to lock them in their cages and repairing the fences, this will for freedom conflicts with my role.
But while the goats ram me with their head and the horses sometimes try to run away, or even kick me, our dogs have employed a different strategy:
They always break out of their cage either during lunch or dinner to protest the lack of food I am giving them and run around barking. So, I need to interrupt my meal and catch them. Now the strange thing happens. While sometimes they’ll run away, when I catch them, they always just lie numb on the ground and stretch their feet out towards me. They don’t try to bite me, they’re just lying there. I try to convince them by telling them it is my duty to lock them up and I’m sorry I can’t give them more food, but I can only give them as much food as possible.
Next, I pet them and promise them I’ll try to get extra food though I know there isn’t any.
On a lucky day I will actually have some extra food and they will follow me to the cage thereby getting on of their main demands: food, but giving up the other (freedom).
But most days the escalation goes on: I grab their necks and try to walk with them, but they remain numb and so it’s really hard. In the end I need to carry them to their cage and find out where they escaped and repair it, before they break out again.
All in the dark, of course, since it’s getting dark at half past five.
A little later, sometimes half an hour, sometimes two days, they will break out again, using the same method. Little by little, they wear me down. One evening they actually escaped three times by removing a six pounds heavy stone and pushing themselves through a resulting hole at the bottom of the fence. That night, I left them outside and only re-incarcerated them the next morning.
At some point I realized the dogs are using nonviolent civil disobedience against me. Or canine disobedience.
They refuse to give up their freedom, but know that violence won’t get them anywhere. If they bit me, I’d get really aggressive and had a justification to treat them worse. But now sometimes the other volunteers reproach me for putting them in the cage.
I have identified four different methods of nonviolent resistance in the dogs behaviour:
- Sit-In (or Lie-in)
- Crossing fences (escape from the cage, entering the volunteers’ area
- Boycott (one of the dogs refuses to eat the extra-food I give him to allure him into the cage)
One of the working definitions of nonviolent resistance I have often heard is: Nonviolent resistance is used by or on behalf of the oppressed, serves to end their oppressions and challenges the humanity of the oppressor to stop oppressing.
So in synthesis there’s two parties: Oppressed and Opressors. And nonviolence is the “weapon” of the oppressed.
Logically that means that if the dogs are using nonviolence, they are the oppressed.
But wait a minute! That makes me the oppressor!
But I’m not an oppressor! I’m just doing my job! The dogs have to be in the cage, else the poo everywhere, bring up litter from the enormous pile of junk right in front of our farm, and scare the tourists! You wouldn’t want to have to be scared of dogs when you come and visit me, would you?! And I’m even nice to the dogs! Some of my best friends are dogs! (like the one dog we don’t cage in, because he’s so cute and fluffy).
All these statements are the arguments oppressors worldwide use – especially those in service of the state protecting the status quo. In my current context I think of the Israeli soldiers who are my age and whom I meet whenever I leave the farm. They are the pawns of the occupation. Many of them hate standing at a checkpoint all day making Palestinians wait the whole day. But it’s their job and they are legally obligated to serve in the military. (In Israel there is a universal draft. Men have to serve three years, women two. It’s one of the very few countries in the world that drafts women)
They get these guns and are told to keep those terrorists from getting stupid ideas.
It’s like Yehuda Shaoul from Breaking the Silence said during my CPT delegation: “I’ll give you a gun and you can try to control a thousand people who are waiting at the checkpoint. It only works with fear. So you count them and harass every 10th Palestinian. It’s as simple as that.”
I realize that the dogs have worn me down through their nonviolent canine disobedience. I also realize that I started to escalate the conflict. To keep them from breaking out there are now bigger stones around the fence. Maybe next time they escape I will throw them into the cage, because if I open the door the other dogs already incarcerated will escape. I have less motivation giving them food, or to spray them against lice.
The fence is strong enough now, but they grow stronger every day and it’s time to seperate them in big cages on the corners of the farm so they can be watchdogs and each has more space. More space, but also solitary confinement.
I spoke of the one side of me that is getting more aggressive towards the dogs. The other side one wants to join them, lie around the whole day, howl at the moon at night and eat food scraps.
But I’ve signed a contract and the work on the farm is meaningful and important.
Once again I use the justification of cops who beat up protesters, and soldiers on the whole world.
Good honest, writing, Jammin Ben! Thanks for the window into your life and the life of the dogs your with. I found myself both pondering and smiling at various times.