Israel took what seems like a huge step forward for animal rights this week, when it officially banned horse-drawn or donkey-drawn carts on all city streets.
"Carts with animals harnessed to them on Israeli roads constitute a significant danger to drivers and pedestrians, and they often cause traffic delays and unnecessary traffic jams," Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told the newspaper Haaretz.
The move puts an end to a popular era of peddlers using horses to pull carts full of repurposed second-hand items. The goods were referred to as "Alte Zachen," Haaretz reported last year:
"Alte Zachen," means "old things" in Yiddish. Traditionally shouted by the driver of the aforementioned cart, it logically became the accepted Hebrew slang name of the means by which entrepreneurial junk collectors in Israel navigate city streets collecting residents' garbage, including anything from appliances to clothing and furniture, ostensibly for resale, scrap metal or junking.
While some environmentalists praised the reuse of old items, animal activists argued that the horses were paying the price. Over the past six years, they've campaigned to get the horses off the street - and now they've achieved just that.
But, there's a loophole in Israel's new ban - the law allows carts that cater to tourists to continue to operate. Not only does this leave horses on the streets, animal activists say, it also gives peddlers an opportunity to pretend to take tourists around, allowing them to continue to operate. Activists argue that simply switching to pickup trucks or rickshaws would be just as effective for both peddlers and tourists - without harming animals.
Nevertheless, the ban is certainly a step in the right direction. The Israeli news site Ynet spoke to Reut Reshef of Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI), who said:
"Israel became the first country in the world to make a nation-wide ban on the use of horse-drawn and donkey-drawn carts in streets and highways. Many researchers proved that there is a direct connection between violence toward animals and violence toward people. The decision taken today is an important landmark in the process of revolutionizing society and making the world more compassionate."
Many U.S. cities, including Biloxi, Mississippi; Key West and Treasure Island in Florida; Palm Beach, Pompano Beach and Camden in New Jersey have already banned horse-drawn carriages entirely. While a heated dispute over the use of horse-drawn carriages in New York City continues, Israel's ban may be one of many seen in coming months.