But They Blow Up
Donkeys, Don’t They?
When news broke in Gaza that the Israeli army had blown up a donkey, claiming it had been loaded with explosives by Hamas, it’s likely that few thought much of it. After all, way before Jesus got to Jerusalem mounting one, animals have been butchered for the sake of humans.
But for reasons that have little to do with biblical tales, and a lot with the way life cheapens at the sight of a gun barrel, a disturbing poignancy about such a minor casualty refuses to remain unnoticed, at least for those not concerned about their immediate survival.
That’s us, if you wonder. For while some may say that exposure to horror, to too much blood and gory, desensitizes and freezes our empathetic bones, we too refuse to swallow the brutality, however common, if only to vainly assert to ourselves that we haven’t gone completely numb. Not yet, anyway.
Horses, a better regarded member of the family, have had big roles in wars, of course, dutifully used to transport, terrorize, conquer, and run away from whatever human tragic folly is at hand. And so have elephants, camels, dogs, birds, pigs, rats, dolphins, and sea lions. All forced to slave and soldier on even where humans fear to tread. By the way, cats apparently refused to be enlisted.
But jackasses, or mules or burros or jennies or, well, you get the gist, despite their lower ranking, have been used mainly for work, not to be treated as bomb mule, pardon the pun. They have in fact this almost beatific status among impoverished communities around the world, to which they serve and are vital.
Asses are smart too, according to animal biologists. But somehow, there’s often something sinister when they’re on the news. Their up-to-a-certain-point docility may act like a magnet to psychopaths, indifferent combatants, and demented small-town entrepreneurs.
Take the unfortunate case of Anapka, for instance, a 40-something Russian donkey who was tied up to a parachute in the summer of 2010 and pushed by a speedboat to advertise its owner’s beach resort. Worldwide outrage forced the human jackass to release the frightened animal, but despite rescued, Anapka died a few months later.
Things ended up considerably better for Smoke, though, a donkey adopted by a U.S. Marine Colonel in Iraq, in 2008. Left behind when the colonel retired, it was given away only to be found again, months later, wondering in the desert. Thanks to the good colonel, Smoke was brought to the U.S. and is alive and well.
But even today, there’s a certain devilish fascination with using donkeys for cheap entertainment, as it’s the case of Donkeyballs, a game still played around the country. Appalled activists have been trying for years to shut down this sad displays of animal abuse, said to promote charity.
In terms of staggering brutality, though, nothing quite tops loading an animal with explosives and hoping that when it blows up, it’ll cause the enemy harm. In Gaza, some see the scarcity of weapons and the gargantuan difference of firepower between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian population as a mitigating factor.
In many cases, mules are among the most precious of a family’s possession, for its economic and sentimental worth, which gives an idea of the desperation of those forced to sacrifice everything in order to preserve some dignity, or at least, their own lives. It’s a miserable choice no one should have to make.
It wasn’t the first time, apparently. Since 1995, when a suicide bomber actually mounted a donkey and blew himself up amid Israeli soldiers, along with the animal, the nefarious practice has become ever more common, including during the early 2000s Palestinian intifada.
Some may say that, in the face of the slaughter of children and entire families in Gaza, the bombing of hospitals, and even direct hits on school buildings, claimed to be built atop tunnels, one more donkey sacrificed shouldn’t capture that much of our attention. Bigger fish to fry, they say.
We’re all fried, however, even if it doesn’t feel like a big deal. It’s actually emblematic that the very same animal that carried Jesus and his message of peace through the gates of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, is now outfit with bombs and kicked to visit destruction and yet more blood not too far from there.
We may go on coming up with reasons not to consider this a big deal, just like the braying of a donkey, however haunting, is not necessarily an indication of its pain or discomfort. It doesn’t mean, however, that we’re ready to simple let this opportunity to cry foul pass with impunity.
It may sound shallow, misguided, useless, even, pretentious, perhaps, or downright pedantic, but there’s not much else left for those begging the powers that be to establish a truce, than to call attention to the small miseries, the devastating details, the resilient footnotes of a conflict that’s bigger than all its moving parts.
For it’s the callous nature of war, and those who wage it, to manipulate the big themes, to evoke irrevocable convictions, to ignite highfalutin ideals, so the killing can continue undisturbed, as if it were a natural force with no boundaries to respect, only borders to reset.
That’s why, for some of us, the killing of a donkey is as indiscriminate and unjustifiable as the murder of a child, or the destruction of a nursery: whatever still holds the power to shock us into action, and paralyze the rockets, is good enough to shout about and against it.
When news breaks in Gaza, and we brace our hearts, we can only hope that someone will take the courageous step from within to turn it into a new day in the Middle East, as a group of Israeli reservists just did. In an open letter, they declared that’s simply enough, and they won’t serve, if called.
If they and, vicariously, we, succeed in halting this runaway train of horror, and the blood of innocents and combatants will be indistinguishable from the rubble and debris of what was once the streets and communities of Gaza, then perhaps we’ll be able to move on and also declare, enough.
Till then, it’s up to us to memorialize every life lost to fire and gunpowder; no living being should be ignored or forgotten. Ironically, Jews were the ones to teach the world that to remember is first and foremost if we’re to prevent mass extermination from happening again. We haven’t already forgotten it all, have we?
* Sick Stunt
* Heart Breaker
* Quadrupled News