In the Palestinian territory of Gaza, a new relationship is blooming between humans and felines.
Seven years ago, as Israeli settlers were preparing for the evacuation of Gaza that had been ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, cat lovers were panicking. Feral cats hanging around their settlements, and the Israeli settlers were worried that no one would look out for them.
Most of the Israelis were of European descent and the ferals were descendants of cats who had arrived with them. The Palestinian culture, on the other hand, didn’t generally have the same relationship to cats, and, just generally, there were few cats at all in the Palestinian areas of Gaza. Indeed, such was the resentment toward the Israelis that the feral cats who were being left behind in the settlement areas would more likely represent nothing more than the lingering presence of the occupation.
But while there were few cats in the Palestinian areas of Gaza, those areas were so overcrowded and cut off from the rest of the Arab world that these neighborhoods were overrun by rodents. The local government tried to step in with extermination programs. But their poisons also killed off any remaining cats – indeed they poisoned everyone.
In his blog post, Cats in Gaza and Cats in Islam, Hani Almadhoun describes what began to happen soon after. As the local government struggled to improve the lives of the people, officials realized that cats were the answer to rats. They began offering a $100 reward to anyone who could bring them a cat. Soon there were cats flourishing all over Gaza, and as the people saw how the rat population was coming under control, they truly welcomed the cats. Almadhoun writes:
In the summer of 2009, I was amazed by how many cats were in the streets. What was more amazing is that many homes have a cat or two that shadow them and emerge at the time of supper. My mother-in-law would feed them, and she had one particular cat that could use a treadmill. Living in the US for such a long time, I came to really appreciate the love and attention the people of Gaza give to those cats.
Almadhoun writes about how cats used to be very much a part of Arab and Islamic culture:
One of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, the one that narrates many of his accounts with the prophet, is called “Abu Horayrah,” which translates to “the man with a kitten.” Abu Horaryrah used to have a cat on his shoulder all the time. His nickname took over his name so that till this day, few can tell with certainty what was his real name.
Gaza, of course, has Egypt on one of its borders, where the relationship with cats dates back thousands of years to the time of the Great Egyptian Cat Goddess. And as far as we know, the Egyptians’ relationship with cats began exactly the same way as what’s been happening in Gaza. When the storage granaries of Ancient Egypt were becoming overrun by rats, the people realized that the wild cats who wandered around their cities were the answer to their problems. The cats literally saved their lives, which is how they quickly attained the status of deities.
Sadly, cats aren’t seen as deities in Egypt today. But check out Hani Almadhoun’s post. Maybe as a new generation of kitties captures the hearts of the people of Gaza, this will be the start of a whole new relationship between humans and felines.