A Matter of Cats and Dog.
Habits in man and animal die hard. This obvious statement of an obvious fact may sound tedious, but consider the astonishing political consequences which often flow from such banalities, as in this present case. One of such habitual traits carried over by the Israelis from their former mediaeval life in Europe to their new home in the middle East was their horror of dogs. There is a long tradition behind that horror, going back to the days when a good Christian used to express his religious fervour by setting the local dogs upon the wandering Jew passing along the highways and byways of Christendom. The dogs, who were not allowed to take part in the newly evolved sport of tennis and football because of the prejudice of the commoners who were glad to find in the dogs a class lower than themselves, enjoyed the sport of mauling the Jewish traveller, scattering his merchandise and tearing up his gabardine. The dogs were also gratified to find somebody lower than themselves in the ordered life of the period.
Jewish fear of the dog became a logical sequence which continued in the new state of Israel. Its logic, however, began to strike a discordant note in countries with the reality of the new life and acquired some grotesque appearances, like all logical fruits out of season, and as it happened on the evening of a cold November day in 1968. This was the day of the Karama battle, a skirmish unknown to any military historian but a byword on the lips of all Arab school children, of whom a considerable proportion of both sexes have now grown up under the unhappy strain of bearing the simple name of 'Karama', and added another element to the national confusion of their country's registration offices.
On the morning of that early winter day, a unit of the Israeli Army crossed the River Jordan and occupied Karama, a little village perched on the hills to the east of the historical river. In less than two hours they demolished all the houses, killed a few score of Arabs and confiscated the Parker ball pen of the united Nations Observer. Seeing that the soldiers had begun to idle and lose morale, the commander of the attack force ordered a withdrawal and sent his Sergeant Major to inspect the improvised bridge.
'Sir', the soldier reported back, 'The tanks can cross; the armour can cross. The heavy guns can cross; the infantry cannot.' The Commander was stupefied as all commanders in the face of any unmilitary logic. The Sergeant Major went on to explain: 'Sir, there is a dog lying next to the cypress tree this side of the bridge.'
Amman Radio interrupted its martial music to give this news flash: 'Our valiant forces have encircled the enemy and cut their rear lines.' For once an Arab military communiqué bore some semblance of reality. The Israeli Commander showered his headquarters with urgent cables, and waves of Mirages went swooping down with bombs, napalm and rockets at the lonely cypress tree. After the dog had been seen, through the binoculars, going up in smoke, the infantry made a safe crossing.
Such was the true and only objective account of the Karama battle as was given by word of mouth to Miss Judy N.Penchforth by the United Nations Observer who lost his Parker pen and could not draft another UN report. Miss Penchforth was an old lady whose sympathies with the Arab cause went back to the days when she saw Colonel Lawrence riding a camel. As soon as Major Seymour O'Grady, the UN Observer, came in his story to the part of the dog and its tragic death, Miss Penchforth fainted. When she came round, she was heard murmuring, 'Hitler was right! Hitler was right!' After a glass of brandy, she walked out of the United Nations office, got hold of an Arab refugee boy limping on a crutch and started to tell him how the wicked Jews killed the innocent dog.
Miss Penchforth rushed from one government department to another in Amman repeating to everybody that tragic tale. The Arabs were stunned. Why had they been wasting their time these past twenty years talking about the suffering of the Palestinian refugees when they could have done better by talking about the plight of the dogs in the Holy Land? Everybody turned against the Information Department. The Head of that Office, who did not happen to be related to the King, was fired for inefficiency and waste of public money. The left wing press accused him of being CIA agent and swore that they were in possession of irrefutable documents supporting the claim.
A more sophisticate campaign was then planned on the basis of the dogs' plight under Zionist rule. The campaign was supported with impressive data and statistics on the Dogs' Exodus of 1948, following the foundation of the Zionist entity, the decline of the dog population in Israel and the reduction of their status to a persecuted minority in the Animal Kingdom, with even the frogs and toads ahead of them. Pictures of starving Saluki dogs, the pride and joy of the nomadic Bedouins, were sent to all political organisations in Europe and America. This was followed by an appeal to the United Nations for an investigation into the story of the ten thousand graves dug up near Tel Aviv on the eve of the June War. It was claimed that the graves were meant and were actually used for a mass burial of living dogs. In the Negev, the Demona Nuclear Centre was presented as no more than a camouflaged extermination camp with gas chambers for the hated dogs. Experts in the Arab Bureau for the Boycott of Israel went so far as to spread the rumour that Israeli toys were made from dogs' fur, and that all Jaffa oranges were fertilised with dogs' bonemeal.
All this was contrasted with the position of dogs in the Arab countries where they were treated exactly as the majority of the human population and where, the propagandists went on to assert with the facts on their side, you could hardly point your finger at any distinction between the average human life and a dog's life. In London, an exhibition was arranged in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields with an Arab dog wearing a collar of barbed wire. In front of him was placed his daily United Nations ration - a small two inch square biscuit. The legend on top read: 'Not by biscuit alone does a dog live. Help the animals of the Holy Land!'
This particular exhibition aroused the anger and disgust of the British public with their notorious weakness for animals. Thousands of men and women sent their dinner jackets and evening dresses in aid of the refugee dogs, and it was impossible to explain to the donors that dogs don't wear them. Eventually, they were sold in auctions and jumble sales organised by the Council for Justice to Animals and tons of Pal Dog Food cans were bought and sent by air to Beirut and Amman. The greedy Arab refugees ate them all and only gave them to the dogs when somebody told them that they contained pork. Now only dogs and Christian refugees eat the Pal meat.
The Arab publicists felt more than gratified all round. At last the Israeli image was really tarnished and gloom descended on Tel Aviv. Massive funds and materials started to pour into the Arab capitals from all corners of the Western world. But God is equitable in his distribution. Now it was an American tourist, a Mrs. Pointen, widow of rich nylon manufacturer from Detroit, who listened to the same tale of the unfortunate Karama dog and the terror meted out by the Israelis to Arabs and dogs alike. But Mrs. Pointen was not moved in the least. After a pause, she turned and asked with some apparent anxiety: 'And the cats too?' Mrs. Pointen happened to be a cat lover.
The intelligence agents of Israel heard the story and, realising its utmost significance, wasted no time in communicating the report to their employers. Levy Eshkol, the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, called for a cabinet meeting immediately. A statement was carefully hammered out and delivered to the international bunch of journalists. Although many dogs have left the country of their own free will, the cats have remained in Israel and their number has even increased. They and the citizens of Israel are getting on famously. Together with the official statement, Davar carried a long editorial with a photograph showing a young kibbutznik teaching a Siamese cat to swim in the Sea of Galilee.
The Arab propagandists countered without difficulty. 'Ah!' they said, 'But cats are unfaithful creatures and their allegiance is not to man but to place.' They challenged Tel Aviv to give any figures on the increased number or wellbeing of cats.
The Jewish Agency despatched its emissaries to the four corners of the diaspora with the precise slogan: 'Bring in the cats!'
The veteran David Ben Gurion lamented in his Negev retreat the unfulfilment of this decade of his life. He was let down. How could cats lead a truly cattish life outside the state of Israel? In London, the Jewish Chronicle commented that if only every Jewish family in Britain contributed just one kitten to Eretz Israel, the young state could solve all its problems and become a truly viable entity. With his long experience in the aliya and resettlement of Jewish youth during World War II, the philanthropist, Mr. Norman Bentwich, started his cat aliya.
But the leader and President of Egypt, Jamal Abdul Nasir, was not sleeping all this time. From his Muntazah Palace in Alexandria, he could hear the loud mewing disturbing the silence of the sea as the noise went up from the loaded ships steaming through the Mediterranean en route to Jaffa. At 3.30am on a cold February night, the Soviet Ambassador was awakened from his sleep. The Egyptian President wanted him on the telephone. Moscow must honour its commitments! The balance of forces was seriously disturbed. Within three days, the Illushin Transport aeroplanes went into action ferrying to Egypt heavy loads of Moscovite terriers, Volga boat bitches, Eskimo huskies and Azbikistani sheep dogs. The American mililtary experts who followed the operation closely admitted that Soviet military efficiency left nothing to be desired in that historical February dogs' air lift. If the Soviets could carry out the deployment of dogs with such ease, what would they do with mere human beings in time of war?
The Egyptians, on the other hand, showed everything that stood in contrast to the Soviet military efficiency. The customs police, seeing that the dogs carried no foreign currency with them, simply let them pass without further ceremony. The free dogs, now counted in thousands, marched straight to the great Mosque of Abu al-Abbas under the guidance of the sheep dogs from Muslim Azbikistan. There they were met by the usual crowd of native dogs waiting for alms, and a bloody battle ensued immediately. The sermon of the Friday preacher was drowned by the barking of the animals and no one could hear a syllable of the Koran. So the preacher left his pulpit and ran up the winding, spiral stairs to address the dogs from the top of the Minaret. With both arms stretched out, he shouted to the dogs, 'You are all brothers.' But his words achieved no better results than those spoken from the pulpit. The Russian dogs knew no Arabic to understand him, and the Egyptian dogs had already heard too much talking of brotherhood. The police were eventually called in and the native and foreign dogs were only separated after some blood letting and machine gun crackling. The scene of the battle featured in nearly every newspaper in the western world and brought in the high dividends dreamed of by President Nasir. 'Help the Egyptian dogs' societies were formed in most American towns and even the Zionist congressional lobby had to keep a low profile, in deference to American public opinion, when President Johnson submitted an emergency financial bill in aid of the Middle East dogs.
In the meantime, the fight for more dogs and more cats on both sides of the Cease Fire Line continued unabated. The Israeli propagandists, always one up on the Arabs, introduced a talking cat on Tel Aviv Radio. Dov, the cat, was trained to pronounce the two syllables of 'me...rvy', a cattish abbreviation for 'marvellous'. To every question put by the Kol-Israel interviewer, Dov, the cat, answered 'Me...rvy' How did you find life in the Jewish state? 'Me...rvy.' How are the cats treated by the people of Israel? 'Me...rvy.' How did you find your holiday in the Kibbutz? 'Me...rvy,' and so on. Millions of people in New York listened to the ten minute programme, 'With Dov, the Cat' broadcast by Kol Israel every evening. Shiploads of double-chinned American millionaires with fat wives and fatter wallets went on pilgrimage to Israel, the fat cat country.
The Arabs soon caught on and started to hit back in a panoramic manner. Hundreds of dogs were led into the studios of Cairo Radio to bark and whine at the microphone for hours on end. The Radio Station of Baghdad which used to beam a nightingale serenade from its transmitters as its distinctive station signal, now replaced that by a dog barking. The poor Bedouins of the Syrian Desert, always travelling with Japanese transistor radios tied to the necks of their camels, took note that the lingo of the townspeople was getting wilder and wilder. 'Easy, easy, you son of a dog,' they shouted at the radio. England, duty bound not to supply strategic materials to the Middle East, contented herself by sending tins of Kit-E-Kat to Israel and Pal Dog Meat, with real liver, to Jordan.
The Israeli Government highly praised the nourishing values of the Kit-E-Kat tins, issued them with Kosher certificates and gave them to their oriental Jews to eat. The Jordanian refugees, still swearing that there was pork in Pal tins, traded them for homus with the Lebanese Maronites who then made a profit on them by selling them back to England. A certain Hanna al-Khuri, a merchant from Sidon, who made his fortune by selling Sainsbury's tinned whole lamb hearts to sick peasants as potential spare parts for heart transplants, set up a new company in Cyprus to deal with the new Middle East line of business.
The affair reached sickly proportions and The Times of London could not but carry a full fledged editorial on this futile conflict between Jew and Arab. Urging the four powers to put an end to the costly race, the Middle East Editor of the newspaper aptly remarked that the fight for more cats and more dogs by the two sides had really become a rat race.
The following morning the Editor received an urgent cable from the same astute merchant of Sidon, Mr. Hanna al-Khuri, with these words: 'Please advise - where are the rats?'