Independence Day at the Zoo

Yesterday was Israeli Independence Day, and it was the first time I got to enjoy my privilege as an Israeli and not work. At my previous job (read: slave labor) I was forced to work, while all my peers, my family members and my roommates were out and about, enjoying the sun, having a picnic, going to the beach, or do what 95% of Israelis do on Independence Day – having a bbq.

But not this year! This year, I was also out and about enjoying the sun (after spreading a generous amount of sunblock on my sleeve tattoo). I didn’t go to the beach, because I’m on my period and also because my boyfriend and I decided to stay in Jerusalem. I also didn’t have a bbq because I’ve had enough meat this week to last me a lifetime, so my boyfriend and I settled for a light lunch and then an even lighter dinner of avocado, eggs and tomato sandwich.

But we also did do something that involves animals – we went to the zoo! It was my first time at the zoo since I don’t even remember how long, and my first time ever at the Jerusalem zoo.

I absolutely love animals. Whenever we drive from Jerusalem to Be’er Sheva or Tel Aviv or Netanya, we often pass by farms or large grazing grounds and see herds of sheep, horses, camels, goats and scattered donkeys, and I’m always fascinated by them.

Walking around the enormous zoo on Independence Day, I saw other animals we don’t see walking around in an open space. Rare species of birds, ducks, and parrots, elephants, tigers, lions, mountain goats and deer, kangaroos, giraffes, zebras, bears, and hippos. But my favorites were the apes. The apes are always my favorite because they look so much like us.

However, there were time when I looked at a deer sitting in a corner or an elephant walking around aimlessly in its fenced habitat and wondered if these animals are happy where they are. Wouldn’t the elephant prefer a larger water source for bathing? Wouldn’t the giraffe prefer more trees and grass instead of the stale hay in a bucket and the dry sand it walks on? Wouldn’t the penguins prefer some ice in their aquarium? Do these animals enjoy people walking around staring and pointing at them, shooting cameras, and kids running around screaming, crying, falling, pounding on their cages?

The zoo seemed to have some nature friendly spots and messages posted around. They had special bins for composting, posts reminding people not to feed the animals or waste water. I’m sure that having a bbq on the zoo grounds is also forbidden, not that anyone in his right mind would want to offend the animals by grilling their kosher counterpart right under their noses, Independence Day or not.

Fortunately however, this zoo was no circus. So whatever supposed animal cruelty takes place, it doesn’t involve starving the animals or forcing them onto a hot platform, teaching them to dance. But caging birds, trimming their wings so that they can’t fly, though it may not be cruelty per say, that’s not the animals’ way. At least not in nature. The posts next to the rare birds’ cages documented the lives of these species, stating that they are on the brink of extinction, and the zoo is making every effort to remedy that problem.

But aren’t humans the cause of this problem to begin with? Maybe if these species weren’t being hunted down and put in cages for human entertainment and capitalist gain, and if humans just let Mother Nature run its course, perhaps these birds could repopulate themselves, without living in a cage and having their wings trimmed.

In any case, I’m happy Israelis get to celebrate Independence Day, whether we stare at animals or grill them. I bet if animals had their own independence, they would most likely not put humans in cages or grill their flesh. But this became a tradition.

What I like most about Independence Day is that the entire country is painted in shades of blue and white, adorned with the Star of David, flags on cars, balconies, entrances to shops and malls and even on food packages. I also like to remember how in Canada, I would be scared shitless to express solidarity with Israel because of anti-Zionist (read: anti-Semitic) sentiment among some of my non-Jewish counterparts.

In Israel, despite the conflict which remains unresolved, there is no such fear. And Israeli pride overpowers whatever fear or anxiety Israelis live in on a regular basis.

I love this country!

Peace, love and holiday in stripes.

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