An award-winning author explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a surprising lens: the animals trying to survive in occupied hotspots
In August of 2016, Israeli police officers arrested a Palestinian donkey in the Jordan Valley. The charge? Not having the correct paperwork.
It’s an image as sad (and strangely common) as it is symbolic: No creature great or small is free from the absurdities of the Occupied Territories.
Companions in Conflict is a surprising investigation into the deeply intertwined lives of the region’s human and animal populations: From camel beauty contests, to a herd of “illegal” Palestinian cows hunted down by Israeli soldiers; from a hyena in a wolf pack that becomes a symbol of Middle East peace, to the tragic story of the now-taxidermied inhabitants of the West Bank’s only zoo–who were frightened to death by Israeli explosive devices.
Drawing on three decades of living in the region, Penny Johnson’s insightful writing reveals what these and many other animals’ fates tell us about the current state of Israel and Palestine. What’s more, looking forward, she introduces a new generation of environmental activists to us, who represent the region’s best hope for conservation, collaboration, and justice for all creatures.
“What a strange and beautiful creature this is, a Palestinian Where the Wild Things Are for adults, written with literary grace, a deep sense of history, and a love of justice. A short book with large implications, Companions in Conflict pulls off something rare: it illuminates a hidden corner of one of the world’s most media-saturated landscapes.” —Adam Shatz, London Review of Books
“Cows, donkeys, wild boars, hyenas .. some of the animals whose fortunes Penny Johnson follows in this thoughtful, always humane and often surprising book. Companions in Conflict shows the devastating effect on Palestinian natural life of the Israeli Occupation and of Israeli strategies since 1948. Widely researched, politically committed and oddly humorous, this a timely and original addition to the literature that ties what’s happening in Palestine to the pressing global issues that concern us all.”—Ahdaf Soueif, author of The Map of Love
”Penny Johnson deepens John Berger’s notion that never again will a single story be told as if it were the only one. This deeply layered book is written with unflinching grace, clarity, anger and humour. It’s a fabulous gambol, performed with deceptive ease, revealing both the dancer and the dance.”—Colum McCann
“Insightful, surprising, and moving. The cost of occupation has surely never before been told in these terms.”—Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire
”The author’s meticulously researched narrative, dotted with well-chosen and eloquent passages from literature and fables, is instructive and accessible… In addition to her stories about the experiences of the animals in the region, Johnson reviews the difficult issues involved in environmental and animal protection… Necessary.” –Kirkus Review
“Thank you, Penny Johnson, for reminding us of one of the worst yet most overlooked evils of our political conflicts: these disputes afflict more than just humans. Companions in Conflict calls attention to the choiceless innocents caught in the crossfire of human hatreds. From donkeys to hyenas, from ibexes to wolves, the earliest and truest owners of the disputed lands between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea are the animals, and they are unduly subjected to our savagery. May this lovingly written book bring us closer to peace for all beings.” —Sy Montgomery, author of How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in 13 Animals
“For millennia, any bestiary worth its salt managed to not only catalogue the animals in the purview of a certain society, but to also take distant readers closer to the experience of being a human alive in a particular space. Penny Johnson’s vivid, sensitive, and well-researched book does this on nearly each page, while simultaneously prompting readers everywhere to consider the lives of animals in their own corners of this rapidly changing world.”—Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses