Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

It’s a question of values

Posted by sanityinjection on October 8, 2009

Today’s complicated ethical dilemma comes to us from the Gaza Strip. Gaza, as readers will recall, is a poor and crowded area controlled by Palestinians. Its borders are tightly controlled by Israel and Egypt because the government of Gaza, run by terrorist group Hamas, sees nothing wrong with allowing missiles to be brought across those borders and fired at Israeli civilians. But I digress.

In the Gaza Strip is a small zoo called the Marah Land zoo. It offers Gaza’s children and families a chance to see some wildlife. However, the zoo can’t boast too many exotic animals, because the cost of having them smuggled across the closed border is exorbitant.

So when the zoo wanted to open a zebra exhibit, instead of paying $40,000 to acquire a real zebra, zoo officials used their ingenuity: They took two donkeys and painted them with black and white stripes. When the effect wasn’t very convincing, they replaced the black paint with women’s hair dye. The results were good enough to delight the children who visited the zoo and got a chance to see their first “zebra”. (Never mind that real zebras and donkeys differ significantly in many aspects other than their coloring.)

Now, if a zoo here in the US tried something like this, we wouldn’t hesitate to call it criminal fraud. In Gaza, though, nobody seems to mind, least of all the parents of the kids. After all, the zoo’s prices are very reasonable, and it’s not as if there is another zoo they can go to that offers a real zebra.

What this illustrates is a contrast in cultural values. In our culture, the deception is unacceptable, based on the assumption that the goal is to make money by duping people. For the Palestinians, the deception is OK, because it serves the practical goal of doing something to benefit the children of Gaza. But you have to wonder where they draw the line. Why not glue a horn to a horse’s head and call it a unicorn? That would delight the children, too, while giving them an equally false lesson in biology.  How do we suppose the children will feel if they find out that they were tricked in this way?

By the way, the article on this is almost as deceptive as the zoo itself. Reuters writes that “Gaza’s Palestinians are impoverished by their isolation under an Israeli embargo”. In fact, while the embargo certainly hurts, Gaza has been dirt-poor for a century or more, including periods when it was part of Israel, Egypt, the British mandate of Palestine, and the Ottoman Empire.

The article also fails to point out that the zoo’s owner, Mohammed Bargouthi, is one of the richest Palestinians in Gaza, having done very well for himself by stealing Western aid dollars when he was a cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority. If anyone could afford a real zebra for the Gaza strip, it would be Bargouthi. But why do that when you can scam children and be viewed as a humanitarian into the bargain?

The same people who would dress a donkey up as a zebra would not hesitate to cheat in negotiating a peace deal with Israel if it advanced their goal of an independent Palestinian state. That is not to say that there are no honest Palestinians, just to point out that honesty as a constant virtue is simply not held in the same regard in the traditional Arab culture as it is in the West. On the contrary, if you can cheat your neighbor successfully, you are admired as clever, and would not be condemned as long as your neighbor didn’t suffer too badly.

While the Israelis have plenty to answer for on their side of things, including a failure to reign in religious zealots who insist on settling in the middle of hostile Palestinians, keep the lesson of the zebras in mind when you hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Israel lacks a “credible partner” in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: