In recent years, Palestinians have taken up bird trapping, or more specifically, parakeet trapping. The hunters make money by selling the birds as pets. The business is a rare source of income in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Hamas group took power 15 years ago.
The ring-necked parakeet is an invasive species of tropical bird that has spread in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The bright green birds with red beaks were most likely first brought to the area as pets.
In Gaza, they are popular as caged songbirds.
Khaled al-Najjar is a trapper and father of two children.
Al-Najjar said of the parakeet, "It's a beautiful bird, and everyone loves it...I catch them to make a living and feed my children."
The birds live on Israeli farms. But when workers come into the fields, the birds fly over the border fence into Gaza. The Palestinian trappers on the other side of the fence catch them in nets and other traps.
The job can be dangerous.
Israel has established a 300-meter area called a buffer zone along the fence. Israeli forces closely watch the border for possible Palestinian invaders.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the years. Earlier this month Gaza was the site of three days of heavy fighting between Israel and forces of the Islamic Jihad group.
Last year, Israeli forces shot and killed a bird-trapper. Palestinian rights groups say Israelis have shot at several other trappers, also.
Once trappers capture the birds, they return to Gaza's crowded cities, where they sell the parakeets to pet stores. Al-Najjar says he gets around $10 for two parakeets. At some pet stores in Gaza, a pair can resell for two times as much.
There are few rules governing the bird trade in Gaza, where unemployment is around 50 percent. Bird trapping has severely reduced the local population of swallows and quail, as well as native species like goldfinches.
By trapping the parakeets, the hunters might be doing the area a favor. The population of invasive parakeets and mynas — a bird of the starling family — has exploded over the past 15 years.
The growth of invasive species has added to a drop in the populations of local species like the house sparrow and the white-spectacled bulbul.
In 2019, Israeli researchers published a study that examined data on bird populations. They found that 75 percent of the most common species in the country experienced population drop in the fifteen years before. During the same time, the study showed, populations of invasive bird species grew at rates as high as 800 percent.
Abdel Fattah Abd Rabou of the Islamic University of Gaza said the parakeets threaten native birds like hoopoes because they take over their nesting areas. The parakeets can also be a pest to farmers by eating grapes and figs, he said.
For the trappers, and a smaller group of people who catch birds for fun, the activity is a way to pass the time.
The blockade limits movement into and out of Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians.
Israel says the closures are needed to contain Hamas.
Palestinians and human rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.
"There is no work and there is nothing to fill my time other than hunting," al-Najjar said.
"In the morning, my children ask me ‘where are you going?' I tell them to hunt. Pray for me and thank God, who responds to their prayers and provides a living for me."
I'm John Russell.
Fares Akram reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English.
Words in This Story
blockade – n. a restrictive measure designed to obstruct the commerce and communications of a nation
caged – adj. kept in a cage - a box made of wire or metal bars in which people keep animals or birds
pest – n. an animal, especially an insect, that causes problems for people especially by damaging crops