PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) President Ingrid E. Newkirk said last Thursday at the International Nonviolence Conference in Bethlehem, “we call all attacks on civilians, whether against Palestinians in Jenin or Israelis in Tel Aviv, what they are: War crimes.”
“If we want an end to violence, it means that we must first reject the slaughterhouse, the animal circus, and animal skins and remember that kindness to animals has been a cornerstone of every great religion in the history of the world," she added.
"Mohandas Gandhi, one of the icons of the nonviolence movement, taught that how we treat animals shows our ability to empathize with those who are ‘different’ from us, which is the first step toward living in peace with our human neighbors,” said Newkirk.
'War is a frightening thing for all living beings'
The three-day conference, which was sponsored by the Holy Land Trust and Nonviolence International, was attended by local Palestinian politicians such as Bethlehem governor Salah Tamari, who delivered a speech on behalf of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who was also on hand for the event.
Newkirk spoke directly of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"What a wonderful thing, to get away from the obsession with the identity of the victims of violence and concentrate on stopping the violence itself," she said.
Newkirk, author of seven books on the treatment of animals, did not shy away from directly linking human and animal suffering, and said that "to allow one form of violence to exist while asking for the eradication of the other is painfully hypocritical."
"War is a frightening thing for all living beings. Every day, millions of animals, who pledge allegiance to no flag, and who have done nothing to provoke aggression, are the victims of the longest running undeclared war in human history: the war on the animal nations," Newkirk added.
Addressing the local audience, Newkirk discussed the poor animal rights situation in the PA, saying: "A nonviolence movement cannot be complicit by ordering up one of the chickens in Ramallah's Manara Square who suffer in cramped cages, under the brutal heat without any food or water.
'Muhammad preached compassion toward all living beings'
"A nonviolence movement cannot stand idly by while thirsty and underfed animals are beaten and forced to haul heavy loads nearly breaking their backs," she said.
PETA's president also addressed religious connotations of the animal rights issue, and citing the Quran, which she said preached kindness towards animals, and stated that all creatures of Allah are sentient beings, enough to attract our kindness, love, feelings, and compassion.
"Every kind of cruelty to animals is forbidden in Islam, which outlaws vivisection, beating of animals, branding them, and baiting animals to fight," she said.
"The Prophet Muhammad preached compassion and kindness toward all living beings. He condemned those who branded animals, confined animals or tethered them to practice target shooting, and stated that is a great sin for man to imprison those animals who are in his power.
He said: 'Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself.' He taught: 'A good deed done to a beast is as good as doing good to a human being; while an act of cruelty to a beast is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.'"
"Why is this forgotten?" Newkirk asked, adding, "God’s vision for the End Times (the eschaton, as set out in Isaiah, Micah, and so on) are depicted as vegetarian and totally nonviolent."
"Everything in between, which includes war, slavery, polygamy, animal sacrifice, etc, is not God’s ideal. According to every biblical scholar, nonviolence and vegetarianism are God’s ideal."
Newkirk concluded by saying, "Gandhi, who helped tens of millions of human beings, was confident enough in his principles to say: 'To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.'"