Palestinian Catholic, modeling St. Francis, cares for abused animals

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

West Bank (CNS) — God gives everyone a mission, Diana George Babish said as
she fielded a phone call about a dog who had been shot in Hebron. The mission
God gave her is to take care of the abused and abandoned animals in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip, she said.

is pushing me to do this work. I believe it is something sacred,” said
Babish, who uses an image of St. Francis surrounded by animals for her online

a Catholic, admitted that it is not an easy mission in a place where, traditionally,
society gives little importance to treating animals with compassion and
routinely considers government-approved shooting and poisoning of stray animals
as the best solution to population control.

is very difficult for me with the culture here; it is a very closed mentality,”
she said. She spoke to Catholic News Service as she was trying to coordinate the
injured dog’s transportation to her animal shelter in Beit Sahour, a village
adjacent to Bethlehem.

continue to poison and shoot dogs because they don’t consider their lives to be
of value.”

Her day
began with the rescue of a 3-week-old puppy who was being kicked around like a
ball by a group of schoolboys.

A few
years ago, she traveled to Assisi, Italy, and she said she continues to draw
strength for her work from the pilgrimage.

now the pigeons still stay on his statue,” she said. “If God did not
want anyone to take care of animals, he would not have given that mission to
St. Francis.”

year Babish, who is in her late 40s, quit her day job as a bank manager to
dedicate herself full time to running the first animal shelter in the West
Bank, the Animal and Environment Association-Bethlehem Palestine, which she
established in 2013.

addition to $13,700 she received in donations, Babish used $20,000 of her own
money to build the shelter. Currently it is run solely on donations and other
forms of assistance, some of which also come from Israeli animal rescue
organizations and individuals. Many of the dogs and cats she has rescued have
been adopted or are being fostered by Israelis. By early October, she had rescued
more than 400 dogs and more than 100 cats from the streets of West Bank cities.
Recently she sent 15 dogs for adoption to Canada.

has many critics within Palestinian society, including members of her own
family, who complain that she is working with Israelis and spending her efforts
on animals rather than people. Some charge her with profiting from the
donations she receives, she said.

Babish brushes off the insults and accusations thrown at her.

we had vets here in Palestine who had the proper equipment and treatments to
care for the animals, or people who would adopt the dogs, I would leave them
here. But Palestinians don’t want street dogs, most only want pure-bred dogs,”
she said. “We in the rescue community put aside politics for the
well-being of the animals. I tell (my critics) God gives each one of us our
mission, and there are a lot of organizations taking care of people. My mission
is to take care of the animals, the most vulnerable beings in the world.”

It was
close to 9:30 p.m. and she had not yet eaten her dinner. She was working out
the logistics of how to take three puppies and one adult dog to their foster
homes in central Israel, then take other animals to a veterinary clinic to be
treated and neutered. She also was preparing travel papers for a cat who was to
be flown to her new home in Sweden.

has 11 board members, 13 general members and two workers who help her in the
day-to-day work at the shelter. Slowly she is making inroads into changing
societal views about animals and rescue, she said.

reality of life as a Palestinian is never far, though, and Babish must have an
Israeli travel permit to go into Israel. She and a driver make rounds in Israel
several times a week.

lot of (Palestinians) start to see that animals are very important. I am
raising awareness through Facebook, fighting animal abuse,” she said. Some
of her posts have received 14,000 views, she said. “Step-by-step I am
creating more soldiers to fight for the sake of animals.”

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