The 2013 Eclipse Awards are a long ways away in March, but I have been thinking about the perfect nominee for a new category called, "Most Devoted Horse Racing Fans." The first choice I have for a winner of this award is the Palestinian people. Starting around 2009, I began to notice references to Palestinian horse smugglers. However, after a few years of touching on that topic, a story about devoted horse racing fans rose to the surface that touched my heart.
West Bank equestrian clubs
Most Palestinians and two of the prominent equestrian and horse racing clubs are in the West Bank -- and not the Gaza Strip. There, the Turmus Aya (outside Ram Allah) and the Jericho Club are not under the same harsh political pressure as the Gaza Strip. Instead, there have been several headlines from this group over the past years including a program for disabled horse riders. There was also a group of women that broke with traditional taboos to form a female equestrian and horse racing league.
Sadly, the residents of the Gaza Strip are banned from owning horses and a long list of other items.
Horses are not the only ban in the Gaza Strip
In the country of Israel, Palestinian territory is divided into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Located in the Northwest part of Israel, the Gaza Strip is separated from the West Bank by about 75 miles. Cut off from other Palestinians, the struggles of Gaza Strip Arabs are related to the tight control that Israel has on their borders, imports, and exports.
The list of about 100 items that are not allowed include: cement, wood, iron, cattle, musical instruments, and notebooks. Also among these banned items are horses and animal medicine. On the other hand, these restrictions have led to a thriving black market -- and it includes horses.
Where to find horses during a horse blockade
The Guardian.co.uk said Prime Minister David Cameron describes the situation between Gaza and Israel as a 'prison camp.' Despite this, the Faisal Equestrian Club has been in existence since 2007 and started with a group of Gaza Arabian horses. Over time, other horses have found their way to the club through the black market.
Under the Sinai Peninsula, there are allegedly almost 100 tunnels that are used to smuggle restricted goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Although it is controversial (due to the trauma a horse might face in the tunnels), the riders at the Faisal Equestrian Club in Gaza City cannot get their steeds legally another way.
Why should they get the first fan Eclipse Award?
When you imagine the day-to-day reality of the highly restricted Faisal Club stabling horses, acquiring them under threat of imprisonment, and still offering rides to the public -- a picture of true devotion to horses, riding, and racing becomes clear. The Gaza Strip Palestinians may accept other terms but refuse to bow down to ridiculous conditions that means giving up their historic love of horses.
On the other hand, I think the outrage that would be appropriate here is the fact that animal medicine is not allowed in Gaza. Undoubtedly, there have been many heartbreaking stories behind the scenes that could have been easily avoided with proper equine medical care. The fact that animal medicine is banned in Gaza by Israel while Tel Aviv rails against the abuse of horses that draw carts is absolute hypocrisy.
While suggesting this group win the 2013 Eclipse Award might be a leap of my imagination, I certainly think that it could bring publicity to a dire situation -- and it is likely to bring the appropriate worldwide forces of change to the rescue. Politicians may wage their wars -- but a ban on horses and animal medicine should be kept out of it.
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Maryam Louise is a longtime resident of the Bluegrass State and has lived in the shadows of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky over the past two decades. In addition to being a fan of horse racing, she has also had a chance to get to know jockeys, horse groomers, and betting clerks as an ESL instructor. Currently, she writes for KentuckyDerby.org and relies on her friends in the multiple facets of the equine industry for writing inspiration.