High on a Hill was a Lonely Goatherd


In March 2017, Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization-Volcani Center hosted a large conference titled, “Goat Grazing in the Woodlands.” The conference, which scholars, geographers, biologists, and environmentalists attended, was called due to the massive fires that had broken out in the woodlands of Israel the previous summer.

Not one of the papers presented at the conference mentioned the extensive efforts that the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, the Nature Reserves Authority, the Israel Lands Authority and other government bodies had made to eradicate the black goat from the Israeli landscape. For decades, the black goat had been seen as the greatest threat to Israel’s natural vegetation, a notion that the media reinforced with reports of the goat’s role in desertification and the threat that Bedouin goatherds would take over the open pastures in the country.

In 1974, following three successive years of drought that forced Bedouins to move their flocks northwards, a special patrol was created, the Green Patrol, that fought Bedouins and their flocks and sought to force them to give up traditional animal husbandry.

Only in the 1990s, after many of the Green Patrol’s actions had been contested in court, did realization of the damage already done sink in. Today the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), is trying to persuade Bedouins to start raising goats again and to graze them in the forests. The government is even willing to pay for this, but Bedouins have moved on and the flocks that are found in Israeli pastures today consist mainly of sheep.

In the latest issue of ERETZ, The Return of the Black Goat, we have dedicated a major article to Israel’s black goat. Like the Had Gadya of Passover, this one little goat is a symbol that the inhabitants of the wild lands must also include the people who have been living in those ecological niches for thousands of years.

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