Israeli and Palestinian girls playing with dogs at SPCA.
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
As Yaniv Ovadia shouted, “Who wants to pet the cats?,” several dozen elementary school girls sped down a sandy hill at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in south Tel Aviv on Sunday evening.
So many of the girls, Palestinian and Israeli students from Jericho and Beit Shemesh, eagerly clamored around the fenced-in area housing the shelter’s felines, that Ovadia redirected some of them back to the dogs they had been playing with.
The approximately 40 girls were participating in an event called “New Spring – New Hope,” held at the SPCA in conjunction with the Peres Center for Peace.
“We let them pet and walk the dogs in our yard,” Ovadia, the director of the SPCA’s humanistic education department, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “That’s when the real connection takes place.”
In addition to petting the dogs and cats, the girls were also able to visit the site’s horse stables. Prior to their visits with the animals, they listened to a brief lecture in both Hebrew and Arabic about the importance of treating animals kindly.
“It makes the girls feel empathy to the animals before they even see them,” Ovadia explained. “The girls understand that this kind of attitude helps the animals to trust people once again.”
The girls also received a complimentary vegan cake from the Jaffa-based Piece of Cake bakery, as well 15 free trays of vegan pizza from Domino’s.
“The concept behind the event is if Palestinian and Israeli children can work together in cooperation for the benefit of animals in distress, it proves that change is possible, and it starts with education,” Ovadia said.
Such cooperative and accepting attitude toward each other, Ovadia continued, can also positively impact the way both Israelis and Palestinians interact with animals.
“If Israeli and Palestinian children can live together peacefully, despite their differences, then animals also have the right to live among us in harmony and coexistence despite the fact that they are so different than us,” he said. “Animals don’t care about religion and nationality. There is a strong connection between the way we treat animals and the way we treat each other,” Ovadia added.