Opinion

The Photo That Encapsulates the Horror of Live Animal Transport to Israel

A rare moment in which two calves cling to each other in a world that’s only waiting for the moment in which it’s profitable to end their lives – this moment reminds us that soon it will end abruptly

Jo-Anne McArthur

JoAnne McArthur is a Canadian photographer who’s won many awards for documenting the relationship between humans and animals. Half a year ago she came to Israel as a guest of an animal rights group called Israel Against Live Shipments. She accompanied Israel Against Live Shipments activists to ports, quarantine depots, calf-fattening farms and cowsheds, taking pictures as she went along. She photographed the piles of carcasses of calves that had died en route or after arrival, including the yellow ear tags, which was all that remained in some cases. She photographed the looks, which always appeared embarrassed, turning to some distant point.

The photograph shown here was taken by McArthur at a fattening farm run by Ran De-Levy, the third largest importer of calves and lambs in Israel, and one of the most aggressive spokesmen opposing animal rights groups. These groups are trying, among other things, to stop shipments of live calves and sheep for slaughter in Israel. 

A transport of animals to slaughter in Isael.
Jo-Anne McArthur

We’ll return to the campaign of De-Levy, who wishes to continue making a fortune from the transport and slaughter of hundreds of thousands of young animals a year – and to this photo.

Three weeks ago, the Knesset passed the preliminary stage of a bill promoted by MK Miki Zohar (Likud), which calls for a gradual reduction of live shipments up to their complete halt within three years. The bill was written in cooperation with animal right groups Animals and Let the Animals Live (Tnu Lachayot Lichyot). The cabinet had approved the presentation of the law to the Knesset last July.

For the last 20 years, animal rights groups activists have been waging a Sisyphean campaign against live shipments. Is the passing of the bill in its preliminary stage a landmark? The government and Knesset members would certainly not have voted in favor of this bill were it not for the success of these activists in increasing public awareness of these shipments, but the question remains as to whether this was only a symbolic act.

What REALLY happens on live export ships?What REALLY happens on live export ships?

At the end of the 1990s there was a sharp rise in the extent of live animal shipments to Israel, resulting from lower duties paid by importers of calves and sheep. An important turning point came in 2014, when the Netanyahu government, at the initiative of then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid, decided to reduce duties even further. Between January and October of 2018 there was a 40 percent uptick in the number of imported live animals, compared to the same period in 2017. 577,828 animals were brought in over that period.

The main opponents of the law against live shipments are the large importers of calves, as well as Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. He says that the abolition of sheep imports will greatly increase the price of meat and lead to loss of jobs. According to MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union) and to figures published by the Economy Ministry, the lust of Israelis for meat can be met through importing fresh or chilled meat or through local producers.

This fact supports the claim that the ministry of agriculture is acting in the interests of livestock importers, mainly Tnuva and Dabah, which have taken over the entire chain of production, from imports to fattening, slaughter and marketing.

Canadian photographer JoAnne McArthur.
Meged Gozani

“There are many people making piles of money in this business” explains MK Cohen-Paran. “When Yair Lapid cancelled the duties on live shipments, customs on imported fresh meat went up. It wasn’t the public that profited from the reduced tariffs and Lapid actually opened the door to monopolies. Now, those tycoons are fighting this legislation like crazy, and the finance and agriculture ministers find it very difficult to oppose them.”

From Australia to Israel without being able to move

In August 2018, the export license of Australia’s largest exporter of sheep was revoked. An investigative report by Animals Australia, which was conducted covertly by those maligned activists, left the authorities no choice. Australian and Israeli media published the report, in which rare photos were taken in the holds of ships transporting calves and sheep to Israel. These photos showed thousands of densely packed sheep and lambs, unable to move and breathing heavily and rapidly, with mouths open, many of them dying or with their heads outstretched in an attempt to inhale some air into their bursting lungs. In one of these shipments 2,400 animals perished.

Two years ago, there was some testimony by Lynne Simpson, an Australian veterinarian who worked on the ships bound for Israel. She was fired after exposing what was going on in those ships. She described animals suffering from heat, without room or air, sticking their necks out through railings in a desperate attempt to breathe some air. The strong ones climbed onto the backs of the weaker ones, in order to reach some air vents. Some of them cooked inside. She described how some of them just fell apart in front of her eyes.

Occasionally there were live births on board. Most of the lambs born there never saw the outside world. They were either trampled to death or died of starvation, quietly, alone. In one photograph a tiny lamb could be seen lying on its own in the filth. It wasn’t dead yet, it was very much alive although it had nothing. It was still alive since the nature of a soul is to long for something, even something never encountered before. Cynical people call this the food industry.

Young animals like to play. In shelters for farm animals, when young animals first find themselves in an open space, they kick their rear legs into the air while running, dancing in circles in what is a declaration of pure joy, expressed by an individual. In every motion one can see the baby-like clumsiness, common to young animals of all species, a dreamy film covering their eyes, their wondering look – all of this we kill shortly after birth. Not immediately – the striving, longing, fearful individual is killed only after arriving at the slaughterhouse.

When these ships arrive in Israel, they are met by activists belonging to groups opposing these shipments. They stand there for long nights, waiting for the long columns of calves and lambs that start coming down the gangplank. They take pictures from a distance – they can’t come close. They once photographed a calf whose tailbone was broken to make it come off the ship. Beatings are routine, since the lambs and calves are scared to move forward.

Cows during a live transport to Israel.
Israel Against Live Shipments

A scream beyond evolution

And back to McArthur’s photo: even if we assume that De Levy’s calves are not physically abused – the way in which the calf lays its head on the neck of another one in that five-star fattening facility, that rare moment in which they cling to each other in a world that’s only waiting for the moment in which it’s profitable to end their lives – this moment reminds us that soon it will end abruptly, that they’ll be separated by force, that a sudden terror will freeze their blood, that they’ll be thrown onto a truck, perhaps seeing each other again at the slaughterhouse, waiting their turn.

It reminds us that once they were born. There was one such moment. “We often hear crying when calves are taken from their mothers” says one of the cowshed workers in a 2017 documentary called Carnal, by Avner Matsliach.

These two calves in the photo are the quiet monument which casts its giant shadow over the conception underlying this immense industry of death, exposing its cruelty. This conception is based on deep-seated contempt for the cognitive and emotional capabilities of animals.

People who are executed don’t scream. They know it won’t help. So why do baby goats at the entrance to the slaughterhouse, or calves in quarantine and in slaughterhouses scream with all their might? Are they waiting for help? There are scientists who try to find an evolutionary explanation for every type of behavior. These animals scream since they cannot but scream. They’re asking no one for anything.

One can hear the “enough” in their cries. Enough in its essential sense, not its verbal one. This scream says: “I”, “enough” and “don’t.” That’s all. It has no evolutionary purpose beyond that.

On the contrary. It is the “I” that’s beyond evolution. Even if in nature there is sometimes a utilitarian purpose to screaming, calling a mother to help, this doesn’t change the fact that here we can hear an animal terrified of death in its most horrible moment, the cry of an individual, not of an evolutionary function. It’s not the voice of an “animal”. It’s the voice of a creature going to its death and it sounds the same for all of them. This is the food industry, this is the reality.