Text size

Yonatan Bassi, the head of the government's Disengagement Administration (Sela), wrote to residents of the Gaza settlement of Atzmona last week to urge them to evacuate their dairy cows early. "Have mercy on the animals," he urged.

As expected, the letter elicited no response. Planning the practical details of the evacuation - even of cattle - is still considered "a blow to the struggle."

The operators of the zoo in nearby Neveh Dekalim have a similar attitude. "We don't want to lend a hand to this," explained Eli Mozes, who has run the zoo with his wife Pazit almost since its establishment 11 years ago. "Maybe this is hiding our heads in the sand, but we're still not ready to accept this."

But the zoo's manager, David Amihai, has a different view: He has been quietly arranging new homes inside the Green Line for every animal. In July, the zoo will be open to the children of the Gush Katif settlement bloc, but the animals will be sent to their new homes at the end of the month.

"I don't intend to leave so much as a louse for the Palestinians," explained Amihai. But he, too, has refused to deal with Sela: Instead, he asked the Israel Nature and Parks Protection

Authority to help find farms and zoos willing to accept his animals.

The "Katifari" zoo is one of the largest in Israel in terms of area. It houses hundreds of animals representing dozens of species and breeds. But, as with other tourist enterprises in Gush Katif, the dream of attracting outside visitors to the Katifari had to be shelved; the zoo mainly serves the Gaza settlers. Every week, hundreds of children visit it; the animals are also used as therapy for special-needs children. One of the children's favorite animals is Shaul, a six-month-old camel that submits to petting as enthusiastically as a kitten. He will apparently be moving to Kibbutz Gavaram.

But Amihai has arranged for most of his charges to initially be given to their new homes as loans. That way, should Gush Katif residents ultimately move en masse to a new location, the animals can be brought back to a new community zoo.

The last few years have not been easy for the zoo's residents: Many mortar shells and Qassam rockets have landed in the Katifari. Once, a shell fragment wounded an ostrich, and the noise of the explosions has caused many pregnant animals to lose their babies. But Mozes said the animals, like the people, eventually adjusted: While there were many spontaneous abortions in the first year of the intifada, "now, even though the mortars continue to fall here, the spontaneous abortions have stopped."

Even with careful planning, Amihai and Mozes said the move will be traumatic for the animals. Some will have to be sedated, and Mozes fears that some may not survive the change.

For Pazit Mozes, the move is no less of a trauma. "These are animals I raised and midwived," she explained. "For 19 years, I've worked with animals. I told Eli: It's frightening to think that perhaps we will never be able to work with animals again."