Do Pigs Fly – Or Is This a Matter of Human Rights?

This article was written for Peace x Peace, a global network of peacebuilders in 128 countries.

I sat on the far side of a large, plain room in the municipality building in Zawiya village in the West Bank governorate of Salfit. On the other side of the room, six local men were introducing themselves. I was there to do research for an article about community philanthropy, and I promise I will write that article, but first I need to write about wild pigs.

Wild pigs?

“Mansour is so big,” one of the Zawiya residents teased, squeezing the bulging forearm of the man sitting next to him, “even the pigs are scared of him.”

The joke was off topic, so I let it go, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It is strange for Palestinians to talk about people and pigs in the same sentence. The majority of Palestinians are Muslim and they, like Jews, consider pigs the dirtiest of creatures. Why were they joking about pigs?

I was sure that I had misunderstood. My Arabic isn’t that good. I probably imagined hearing the word, khanazeer (the Arabic word for pigs). I asked one of my friends.

“There are lots of wild pigs (aka boars) in the villages in the West Bank,” my friend told me. “The Israeli settlers let them loose to destroy Palestinian crops. Sometimes the pigs even attack children.”

Wild board in the West Bank (Photo: Karen Sears)

Wild pigs? I’ve lived in Palestine for eight years and I’ve seen a lot of inhumanity, but the thought of wild pigs being intentionally released shocked me. Is it possible that, like me, the international community doesn’t know about this?

I found an article or two online, but they didn’t report any details. (There may be more in the Hebrew press, but I can’t read it, and I’m told the Arabic press comments from time to time.) I called the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They had never heard of the problem of wild pigs, but said it would fall under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). OHCHR said they were unaware of any reports of wild pigs being released by settlers in Palestinian villages. (The UN does monitor lots of other settler violence against Palestinians). I spoke with the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) who said they’ve never studied the problem and can’t comment on topics they have not studied. They did mention, though, that there was recently a fatal car accident involving a wild pig (read about it here). Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights organization, said the claim is “fantastical,” and “science fiction.” I started to wonder if the wild-pigs-being-released-by-Israeli-settlers story was an urban legend like the myth that Yasser Arafat died of AIDS.

But Rabbis for Human Rights said that while it sounded unlikely, it was not totally impossible since settlers do release attack dogs on Palestinians. “They even do it on the Sabbath,” he said with disgust. “They somehow rationalize that attacking Palestinians is holy.”

I was no closer to finding out if the story is true, but I was feeling doubtful because since wild pigs are, by definition, wild, wouldn’t the settlers have to first catch the pigs in order to release them in Palestinian villages? These pigs reach 200 pounds or more and have long, sharp tusks. Catching them seems like dangerous, specialized work. Also, pigs are unclean for Jews and most Israeli settlers are religious. Would they really touch pigs in order to harm Palestinians? And besides that, what would prevent the wild pigs from turning around to ravage the crops of the settlements once they finish eating the Palestinian produce?

I expanded my investigation and spoke with farmers, journalists, agricultural workers, and researchers, and everybody confirmed that wild pigs are a serious and growing problem. In some villages there are only occasional sightings of small numbers of animals, but in others, wild pigs are a major threat to the safety, well-being and livelihoods of thousands of people. Over and over people implored me to understand the urgency of the problem: “They move in packs of 50-60 pigs. “They live between the houses. We are scared to go out to visit neighbors at night.” “Many farmers have been forced to abandon their fields because the pigs eat their wheat, watermelons, guavas, and even the roots of olive trees.”

Wild boars in trap near Ramallah (Photo credit: Danna Masad)

But how can we be sure that the wild pigs are being released by Israeli settlers? Nearly everyone I spoke with argued that wild pigs aren’t native to Palestine and the only people with the ability to import them are the Israelis; that the problem started during the first Intifada when settler violence began and when, they claim, settlers began to cultivate wild pigs; that the problem is worst in villages adjacent to settlements.

But I wasn’t convinced! I was losing sleep. I had to find the source of the wild pig problem. Yet I couldn’t find anyone who had seen settlers release pigs into villages with his/her own eyes. One farmer said his wife’s relatives reported seeing a helicopter deliver a male and female to Kursa village; and an agricultural expert had been told by a farmer from Jalameh village said that a civilian truck accompanied by a military jeep opened the gate that controls the entry and exit of laborers and released several wild pigs into Jalameh. Surely, if thousands of pigs were being transported into Palestinian villages, there would be more evidence.

Moreover, according to Birzeit professor of political science and naturist, Saleh Abdel Jawad, wild pigs ARE indigenous to Palestine. Most Palestinians don’t realize they are indigenous because the population was smaller and lived only in the wild until the last 8-10 years. It turns out that the hyena, the only other indigenous predator of the wild pig has been hunted to near extinction. This has led to a dramatic and unchecked increase in the population of wild pigs. In fact, there is apparently a dramatic increase of wild pigs in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria too.

But does not mean that the infestation of wild pigs in Palestinian villages is merely a fluke of nature? No, because if the problem were merely natural, there would be a problem in the Galilee, a similar environment adjacent to the West Bank but inside Israel. There isn’t. If the problem were natural, the Israeli settlements would also be suffering. But they aren’t.

What do I believe?

1-   Wild pigs, indigenous to Palestine, are increasing naturally. Their numbers have become a problem because its only animal predator, the hyena, is no longer keeping the population in balance.

2-   Although there isn’t a large domestic market for wild pig meat, people have in the past been able to trap, poison or shoot wild pigs when they threaten farmland or populated areas. However, harming or trapping wild pigs is now forbidden and Israelis frequently catch and prosecute people who seek to limit the population of wild pigs. Also, carrying firearms that would be needed to kill these large and dangerous animals is forbidden to Palestinians.

3-   Israel erected a 708km “barrier” (aka Annexation Wall) comprised of sections of concrete wall and fence, totally enclosing the West Bank and encircling many villages. Since we know that pigs can’t fly, the population of wild pigs will inevitably increase within the West Bank without any opportunity to disperse naturally throughout the region or even to escape from populated areas.

4-   Israeli settlers live in fenced-in settlements and are protected. Only Israelis control the gates in the Annexation Wall through which wild pigs could pass. Only Israelis have the ability to move pigs within the region.

I realize that settlers often actively organize attacks of all kinds against Palestinian children, farmers and property, with near-total impunity for harm they cause to Palestinians (even when their actions are illegal), but in this case, I think the fault lies squarely with the Israeli government. The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority of Judea and Samaria told me definitively that settlers do not cultivate or move wild pigs. They admitted that they are the only ones who move wild pigs and they do so to spread the population. They agreed that the population is growing too big, and that more are entering populated areas, but said the animals are still protected because they are part of nature. When I said that Palestinians complain about the danger of wild pigs in villages they told me that wild pigs don’t threaten people unless people threaten their offspring. “A pig might run at you and you might think he’s going to attack you, but he won’t,” they told me. “If you step aside, he’ll run right past you.”

Incredible! Wild pigs in Palestine are protected, but no one is protecting the Palestinians!

This is not a “normal” situation in which a national animal protection policy needs to be modified. Israel is an occupying power, with obligations under international humanitarian law, that intentionally acts to multiply the number of wild pigs that live in areas in which Palestinians are surrounded and enclosed. It’s a matter of human security, livelihoods, sanitation, and well-being. It’s a matter of human rights.

So here’s a call to action to the Israeli and international human rights organizations:

1-Study the problem of wild pigs in Palestinian villages, immediately;

2-Hold Israel accountable for its obligations to protect and promote the wellbeing of the people under its control;

3-Find ways to remove wild pigs from Palestinian farmland and populated areas;

4-Tell the world: Israel has locked Palestinians in villages with wild pigs!

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15 thoughts on “Do Pigs Fly – Or Is This a Matter of Human Rights?

  1. Hi Nora, a friend of mine who just visited her Palestinian family for the first time (outside Nablus) said they also are having a wild-pig problem.

  2. elaine hagopian says:

    If this all proves true, the Israeli settlers are more creative in brutality than I gave them credit for.
    Loved the piece on slow food. Elaine
    O

    • admin says:

      They are brutal, but I don’t think this is (wholly) the fault of settlers, I think it’s the Israeli government (Nature and Parks Authority), and I do think it matters. I got this comment by email today:

      “I returned from a hike in Wadi Sarida today organized by PACE, with a group of 5 Canadians from Jerusalem. At one point, walking through the wadi, empty of water, full of rocks and stones, one of the guides, who lives in Kufar Dik, stopped us by pointing towards the terraced hills. We all looked to where his finger pointed and saw a herd (is that the collective term?) of 8 – 10 boars hightailing it to higher ground to get away from the loud noisy humans.
      Fascinated, and reminded of our talk of boars, I stood still watching as long as they remained visible, even hearing squeals and grunts–as sound there carries so well.

      I asked our guide if he’d heard about the story of Israeli settlers releasing boars in Palestinian villages and he confirmed that it was not rumor, but true. He’d seen it himself. I asked him how could the settlers handle these large, wild animals. He said he saw boars which had been drugged earlier, released from an Israeli Nature and Parks Authority Truck. “I saw with my own eyes.” Then, after the hike, a different employee of the tour organization gave me a ride home. I told him we’d seen several wild boars during our walk. He told me there are herds in his village (Atara) and that a child there was attacked by a boar that cornered the boy against a wall and mauled his leg before help came, resulting in (fortunately only) a broken leg. Probably also a traumatized child. When I got home, I opened up my email and read your blog article with interest. At this point, I am unsure what to believe. It’s a messy mess though.”

      I answered the writer that the Palestinian she’s referring to is confusing the Nature and Parks Authority (which is the Israeli government) with settlers, and I understand why — the government supports the settlers and the impact is nearly the same on Palestinians. But for advocacy purposes, I think it’s very important to distinguish. They can’t point the finger at one another if we know that it’s the Nature and Parks Authority. The fact that they’re likely acting on settlers’ behalf doesn’t really matter.

      What do you think?

  3. Yariv Mohar says:

    Just a correction:
    Rabbis for Human Rights never eared about cases of settlers attacking Palestinians using wiled pigs. Using such unreasonable rumors as facts might even be counter-productive in terms of the credibility of the critical voices toward the Israeli policy in the West Bank. We commented that we did ear about cases where settlers used dogs for attacking Palestinians but not pigs. And also we stressed that pigs are a religious taboo for most settlers which make the accusation even less likely although there were cases, again, of settlers attacking Palestinians on Saturday [Shabbat] under some theological excuses. But never did we imply any probability that the story about attacks using pigs were true.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your clarification. And after reading the article, do you think that Rabbis for Human Rights will be studying the issue and, hopefully, taking a strong advocacy position?

  4. Rami Hinawi says:

    Thank you Nora for triggering this topic, I had the same wonderings earlier, you have enlightened a dark area,

    Regards

    • admin says:

      There are still so many unanswered questions. I hope someone does a proper study–soon! Meanwhile, someone brought this very informative article to my attention: http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Features/Article.aspx?id=132617

    • admin says:

      And my friend, Maha Jarad, wrote this: “Thank you so much for writing about this problem. I hope you pursue it, I also hope the Palestinian agricultural committees and other NGO organizations start talking about it more especially when they travel abroad to attend meetings and speak in various events and meetings. I know for a fact that these pigs are very dangerous and very scary. In my village where I stayed the last time I was in Palestine, I heard many stories from people who were unable to work on their land because of these animals. They also told me about a number of stories of people who did go work on their land and were forced to climb up trees for safety until someone could come and rescue them. So its not true that they run past you. I personally saw two of them in the back of my aunt’s house. People don’t feel safe. People use to go to the hills to have picnics and pick almonds off the trees and just hang out with each other but not any more, I’ve also talk to people who have seen settlers drop pigs into the hills of their village. Another person saw them bring pigs in a truck. So please keep talking about this. I think sometimes Palestinians including Palestinian activists don’t talk much about it because its just so bizarre that the outside world would probably dismiss it as an exaggeration.”

  5. Marco Espvall says:

    Thank you Nora for writing about the Boar problem in Palestine. Well done I just wonder about one sentence:
    “No, because if the problem were merely natural, there would be a problem in the Galilee, a similar environment adjacent to the West Bank but inside Israel.”
    As I understand it there is a “wild boar problem” in the Galilee, as well as in Haifa and big parts of northern 1948 land (Israel):
    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/in-israel-a-farmer-s-worst-nightmare-turns-flower-s-best-friend-1.401094
    http://ruthludlam.blogspot.co.il/2011/08/wild-boars-in-haifa.html
    http://natureisrael.com/mammals.html
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oaTQDVkbX4
    http://mammalwatching.com/Palearctic/palearctisrael.html
    …and so on.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for all these valuable sources of information. I look forward to going through them. Clearly, evidence is mounting, and hopefully the pressure is also mounting on the Israeli government to prevent this sick problem and on international organizations to hold Israel accountable.

  6. D.T.Clifton says:

    Went camping near Burqa in the northern West Bank a few weeks back. The owner of the farm came and warned us that settlers and wild boars came trough the area. He repeated these menaces throughout the 2 hours he spent with us, using the word “they” interchangeably to mean boars and settlers.

  7. claudia says:

    Nora – it’s unbelievable, but the sad thing is, it’s reality and practically nobody outside your area will care…
    That’s why I am posting it, and will talk about it. will it help though?
    Thank you also for being so insistent in finding and researching facts like this, it’s so important for the rest of the world.Take care please.

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