Penny Johnson: The occupation does not differentiate between animals and humans in Palestine
Ramallah - (A.M. Qattan Foundation):
Researcher and academic Penny Johnson has said that, “In Palestine, animals and humans are on an even footing, both targeted and endangered by the occupation.”
The statement came during the launch of her book, Companions in Conflict: Animals in Occupied Palestine, at the A.M. Qattan Foundation last week.
The 238-page book, published at the beginning of 2019, follows the presence of animals in historic Palestine through research and literary and folkloric connections to theorise the relationships and histories between animals in Palestine, as well as the change in all aspects of life brought about by the Israeli occupation and its subsequent land expansion.
While discussing her book, Johnson said, “I’m not asking that animal rights are valued more than humans, but I do call for the protection of animals from the scourge of the Israeli occupation.”
She added: “The link between animals and humans is rooted in our history and our thought—both under threat by the occupation, and the relationship between the two is endangered also.”
In her book, Johnson explores the similarities between Palestinian displacement and loss of land and the animals that have suffered in the same way—suffering embodied in Israeli settlement expansion that has placed them both in similar circumstances.
She sees similarities of the Palestinian struggle through a number of animals: donkeys, hyenas, gazelles, wolves, leopards, cattle, camels and other animals within historic Palestine.
On the surface, Johnson poses an existential question: “Can Palestinians involved in the conflict—and those who live under occupation—really concern themselves with the welfare of other mammals?” Through her research trips and interviews, she arrives at the conclusion that animals and humans are equals in their struggle against the occupation through the degradation of their welfare, not their existence.
Penny Johnson is a researcher and founding member of the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University and an associate editor of Jerusalem Quarterly. Johnson was co-editor of the book Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home with researcher and academic Raja Shehadeh, which won the Palestine Book Awards in 2013. Johnson was born in the United States and lives in Ramallah.