“We have the only job in Israel that is more secret than the Mossad or the Shin
Bet. You know why? Because no one knows what we do.”
midnight in the back-country near Latrun, and Maor Pariente, 31, is riding
shotgun in a Toyota pickup truck on dirt roads with his partner for the night –
30-yearold Dekel Gad. They’re looking for illegal hunters who take to the
countryside at night seeking to bag wild animals.
The Israel Parks and
Nature Authority park rangers are armed with Jericho handguns and NIS 20,000
night vision goggles. As they drive through the vineyards and apricot fields
that overlook Highway 1, they keep their eyes open for the telltale signs that
hunters are nearby. Driving in the pitch black with his headlights and brake
lights out, using his goggles to see the dirt road ahead, Gad slams on the
brakes and jumps out of the pickup next to an irrigation pipe.
path he finds a 12- gauge shotgun shell, most likely left behind by hunters.
It’s not fresh enough to smell like gunpowder, but the lack of rust on the
primer at the bottom of the shell indicates it was fired in the last couple of
“This wasn’t too professional of them leaving it out here for us to
pick up,” says Gad, as Pariente swings his searchlight, shining the beam on two
deer on a hill before they dash off over the midnight horizon.
have heated up for the park rangers recently.
Twice in June unidentified
hunters left severed antelope and porcupine heads tied to fences in the Galilee,
in what the INPA says were blatant attempts to intimidate rangers.
weeks before that, a ranger’s car was torched outside his house in the North,
and masked men wielding metal poles severely beat another ranger in a rural area
of the Galilee.
“The severed heads were a way of saying ‘We’re here,
we’re not going anywhere, we’ll hunt whenever we want and we aren’t afraid of
you,’” Gad says.
Hunting is part of the culture of many Israelis, in
particular residents of Druse, Muslim and Christian villages, not only in the
North but also in the Triangle, the South and the Jerusalem area. There are
around 2,000 licensed members of the Israel Hunters Association, but also an
unknown number of illegal hunters, many of whom take to the countryside to earn
money, with the meat of a single antelope selling on the black market for
between NIS 1,200 and NIS 1,500, and that of a porcupine for several hundred
Pariente explains how the hunters also manage an elaborate,
illegal trade in wild goldfinches (huhiyot), which they catch by laying field
nets and then closing them around the birds. The prized songbirds are sold in
the West Bank, Jordan, the Persian Gulf and beyond.
The rangers also
ticket people who illegally harvest wild za’atar and sage. Typically, it’s small
groups of Israeli-Arab family members who gather the herbs while out on picnic,
but at times the rangers come across truckloads of Palestinian laborers
gathering kilos of the herbs by the dozen, to sell back in the West Bank or in
Jordan, where – as in most of the Middle East – wild za’atar is endangered, according to Pariente.
The teams of laborers work in
shifts filling sacks and then hiding them in the countryside for an accomplice
to pick up and sneak into the West Bank.
In between chasing hunters and
illegal herb gatherers, park rangers set up hidden cameras to catch Thai farm
workers setting improvised traps for wild animals that end up getting barbecued
after the laborers’ workday is done.
As he and Gad describe their various
enforcement hats, Pariente gets a call from the control room at an IDF infantry
base near the West Bank Seam Line, where a soldier asks if he knows anything
about illegal hunting in the area.
After hanging up, Pariente explains
that the base heard something that sounded like gunshots, and it is up to him to
figure out what it was. It could be hunters, or it could be fireworks or
celebratory gunfire in an Arab village.
Such calls are a nightly matter,
and part of a two-way street: Park rangers often call the army to determine if
what they suspect might be hunters is in fact IDF troops taking part in a
The moment is a microcosm of sorts of the complex and
largely unknown job they’re asked to do as rangers for the IPNA. On one hand,
they’re law-enforcement officers looking for poachers and firearms violators,
gathering evidence and confronting hunters who typically have them outnumbered
At the same time, they look for violations of littering
and campfire regulations, and gather data to track flora and fauna.
any given night I can get a call about a group of illegal hunters somewhere near
Modi’in and then a call later on that someone has found a sea turtle nest on the
beach near Tel Aviv, and you have to go and seal off the area and take the eggs
to be hatched and the turtles taken to the sea,” Pariente says.
one hand you have to be the police for nature, but also almost
They have to cover large areas – Pariente is the one area
ranger for the 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of the “Paleshet” area from
Ashdod to Tel Aviv and east to the Green Line, while Gad covers the 50,000
hectares of the Judean Mountains.
Altogether the IPNA has five districts,
each one with between two and four subdistricts, and each has a couple of areas
with a single ranger in charge.
In addition to the hunters, typically out
in pairs or as many as four at a time, in pickup trucks with rifles and
sometimes IDF-issue guns and equipment, rangers have to contend with wild
animals that many Israelis don’t know live among us – often right near highways
Pariente describes how a year-anda- half ago he answered a
call about hunters near Elad. He found three large wild dogs standing in a
When he walked closer he realized they were larger than usual, and
then he did a double take – they were striped hyenas and they were only about 5
meters away and looked ready to pounce. He slowly backed up into his truck and
then hightailed it out of there.
Despite the fierceness of hyenas or wild
boars, humans tend to be the most dangerous animals. Gad describes how a few
months ago he came across a group of men in a field near Beit Shemesh catching
goldfinches. When he told them to stop, they got in their truck and floored it
straight at him. He pulled his Jericho pistol and the hunters swerved, and then
tore off down the road, disappearing into the countryside.
“If you see
five people, you have to assess the situation and decide whether to come over,
and when you do you have to try to calm the situation and be relaxed, you can’t
come out with your gun drawn,” Gad says.
The two men, Gad, an ex-Nahal
Brigade officer and moshavnik, Pariente, a former paratrooper from Kfar Truman,
say they were drawn to the work because they love the outdoors, and because it’s
never boring – you start every shift having no idea how it will end.
along with the excitement and the danger of facing illegal hunters in the dead
of night in the backcountry, there’s another menace they say is more bothersome:
Israeli hikers treating the parks as their own private trash dumps.
criminals, the hunters – they actually respect or fear us,” Pariente says,
shaking his head as he stirs a pot of Turkish coffee. “The young Israelis or
families who you come to and ask to pick up their trash or not start a fire
where it’s not allowed – they can be much worse.” •