A Palestinian mayor whose offer of a bounty for killing stray dogs caused outrage among animal-lovers has backtracked, saying he was joking.
Hebron Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh had said those who killed strays in his city could get 20 shekels ($5.8) per dog.
Stills and videos were then widely shared on social media which apparently showed dogs being killed or abused.
Another mayor then encouraged people to also shoot dogs in his city.
Diana Babish, who runs the West Bank’s only dog shelter, in Beit Sahour south of Jerusalem, condemned what she said was “a green light to violate and kill and torture animals”.
Local animal rights groups estimate that there are a few thousand stray dogs across the West Bank. No formal animal rescue services exist.
Sometimes, strays – a mixture of what Palestinians call baladi (local) dogs and cross-breeds – gather in large packs and scavenge for food. Some can become aggressive and there are frequent complaints to Palestinian councils who often poison and shoot the dogs.
With most of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli military and administrative control, there is no joined-up strategy for dealing with the problem.
Speaking on a local radio station last week, Mr Abu Sneineh was asked about the issue in Hebron. He admitted that he had not consulted other council members but announced the idea of offering a fee for killing a dog. “It means that if a person brings or kills five dogs and stopped their danger on the street, they will be given 100 shekels,” he said.
The videos which followed seemed to show dogs being shot, tormented and beaten. Some footage that was shared appeared old or fake.
A group of young Hebronites was so upset that they took to hanging up posters opposing the action at council sites – many of which were quickly torn down. “The main idea was to educate and share awareness among the public and the municipality that our religion, traditions and history as Palestinians doesn’t accept killing or abusing or treating any kind of animal in a bad way,” says Fida Juneidi.
The volunteers also offered to remove any strays and took some to the dog shelter, which is full to capacity, but gives medical care and attempts to rehome them.
In the northern city of Tulkarm, whose mayor endorsed the practice, local authorities now say they will work with police to control the canine population. It became a major talking point among Palestinians on social media. One Instagram post showed a German shepherd armed with a rifle saying: “Dogs in Hebron after the statements of its mayor.”
Palestinian animal rights activists say that the only silver lining of recent days is that it has opened an overdue debate on compassion towards animals.
While there is little financial support from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, they stress the need for a comprehensive neutering and vaccination programme. “We just want the population to be under control and less dangerous to people,” says Lama Yahya of the Palestinian Animal League. “It’s more expensive but it’s definitely the more humane solution for the dogs.”