Disengagement: “A donkey, a goat and a cow”

A donkey cart in Khan Yunis market. (Arjan El Fassed)


This morning I received an e-mail from a friend in Washington D.C. He expressed his sympathy for the Israeli settlers who he had watched being removed from their homes. It is his birthday today so I thought that rather then e-mail him a moral lesson all the way from the Gaza Strip or tell him the stories of the 30,000 Palestinians who lost their homes during this Intifada I would send him an old Jewish proverb that sums up the situation in Palestine one week after the start of the redeployment:

“A man lives in a small house, he has many children and little money. He goes to the Rabbi to ask some advice and says to him - Rabbi, Rabbi - you are a wise man. I live in a small house, it has little light and little space. I have many mouths to feed and very little money - how can I make my life better? Please, my situation is very poor I’ll do whatever you say to make it improve. The Rabbi considers him carefully and says to the man - Go to the market, buy a donkey and put the donkey inside the house with you for a week - then come back to me. The man is shocked. But, Rabbi, he says, - I have, as I told you, very little money and certainly not a donkey. If I should buy a donkey my small savings would disappear and we would seriously be in trouble at our home. The rabbi repeats his edict and the man goes off and buys the donkey. He takes it home with him and finds that the donkey is eating the furniture, the children hate it and his wife hates it. It is too big and takes up all the space in their small home. The man’s life is miserable for this whole week.

At the end of it he returns to the Rabbi and says -Rabbi, Rabbi - you are a wise man and I have taken your advice. I put a donkey inside my house for a week and it has been miserable. The donkey is big and our premises small - the children are nervous and my wife is unhappy.

The Rabbi considers the man slowly and says to him: - Today you should go and buy a goat from the market and place it in your home for a week. The man’s head sinks into his hands and his jaded eyes peer out through his fingers at the Rabbi. But, unwillingly, he goes to the market and buys a goat to take to his home. He arrives home with the goat, holding it by the horns - for it is a feisty one. His wife is beyond misery, she stands in the narrow doorway to their home in disbelief at the man’s behaviour.

The man places the donkey in the house and together for a week he lives with it: the donkey, his wife and many children. The donkey and the goat don’t react well together - the one is cumbersome and the other feisty and noisy. They eat the man’s furniture and have the pleasure of going to the toilet at their own leisure, in which-so-ever part of the house they please. The children are scared, excited and confused in equal measure and they are also running, screaming and crying around the small house.

The man gets no peace at all. There is no room for him to sit and the furniture he has is being destroyed by the donkey and the goat who are chewing on it. The horrific stench from the animals continues to get worse and his wife is constantly berating him for his actions and the situation they are in. At the end of the week the man returns to the Rabbi and pleads for his sanity. -Rabbi, Rabbi - you are a wise man - please tell me what I can do to stop this terrible situation. My wife is angry, my children are scared. Our small house is being ruined and we have no peace from the donkey and the goat inside.

The Rabbi considers him slowly and says -Go and buy a cow from the marketplace and keep it in the house with you for a week before you come back to me. The man, beyond dejection, trudges a path away from the Rabbi towards the marketplace. He spends the very last of his money on the cow and tows it home to live with him. Now in his tiny house there is no space, no furniture. The light is being blocked out by the cow which uses the remaining gnawed furniture to chew the cud. The smell is horrendous and the man and his family survive on the borderline of sickness in absolute misery. They have no food, no light, no air and can barely find the space to think of themselves let alone to look to the next day or even the day after.

After a week of sheer hell the man returns to the Rabbi and says nothing. In his face is carved the misery. Eventually he speaks to the Rabbi, his voice sullen and without the spirit it once had -Rabbi, Rabbi - you are a wise man - please tell me what I should do? My life is worse then hell. In fact the few moments of sleep I have had in this past week I could not enjoy because I spent them dreaming that I would end up in hell to relieve the suffering of this current miserable existence. I am trapped inside my miserable house with no money, no food, no space, no light, no air and nowhere else for me to go. My wife and children and I are almost always sick and I feel I am at the point of desperation where I could commit suicide if this goes on any longer. What should I do?

The Rabbi considers him slowly and says -Go this week to the market and bring your donkey to sell it - then come back to me in one week.

The man goes home and takes the donkey to the market and sells it. After a week he returns to the Rabbi who asks him -Well, how was it this week? The man replies - Rabbi my life is still miserable - my wife and children are at the point of collapse and we have little money and little food. Our house is still small and miserable but, Rabbi, we will not miss this donkey one bit I am happy to see it go and things have been a little bit better. But Rabbi, tell me, you are a wise man what should I do now to improve my terrible situation?

The Rabbi, again after careful consideration of the question, responds -Go this week to the market and bring your goat to sell it - then come back to me in one week. So, the man goes to the market and sells his goat and returns to the Rabbi after one week. -Well, asks the Rabbi, how was it this week? -Rabbi, Rabbi the man says, almost finding a smile to break through his wrinkled gestures - This week was much easier. I was happy to get rid of that donkey last week but this week to have the goat gone was a delight. Although I should say that I still have this smelly cow and my wife and children are still angry and tired - but now at least we can sit down and rest a little. But my life is still miserable - this cow smells badly and almost all of my furniture has been destroyed. The situation remains painful and difficult. Rabbi - you are a wise man, what would you suggest that I do?

The Rabbi instructs the man to once again go to the marketplace and sell the cow and the man obeys, returning in a week. -How did you find it this week? asked the Rabbi. - Rabbi, Rabbi, indeed you are a wise man. This week my life was wonderful - no donkey, no goat, no cow. My house is huge and my wife and children have so much space to live. We have some little money and things indeed seem so much easier then they were so recently.”

The Israeli political and military establishment didn’t just put a donkey, a goat and a cow into the Palestinian lands they put in the whole zoo. Today the removal of the Netzarim settlement in Gaza is the removal of the donkey. So after 38 years of occupation they take out the donkey and expect the Palestinians to be happy and the world to express sympathy for the settlers? We have along way to go before the rest of the zoo leave the occupied Palestinian territory.

Eoin Murray is an Irish Human Rights worker, based in Gaza City. He is researching on the position of Human Rights Defenders in the occupied territories for Front Line, the International Foundation for the protection of Human Rights Defenders.

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