Are the British to blame for Israel’s stray cat problem?

It’s a well-known fact that there are an inordinate number of feral and stray cats in Israel. They are often semi-domesticated and therefore better described as community cats. Before I answer the question in the title, I have to touch on the question as to whether they are a genuine problem. In my view, it is clear that they are not a sufficient problem for the government to take steps to fix it. There is cause for concern because from time to time you see articles about the stray cats of Israel but the government of Israel does not commit to humanely eliminating the stray and feral cats of their country.

A woman feeds community cats in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: EPA/ABIR SULTAN
A woman feeds community cats in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: EPA/ABIR SULTAN
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

A general acceptance?

They do put some money towards it such as a modest amount to conduct TNR programs to support volunteers. But the amounts are quite small and the clear indication is that the Israeli government accepts, perhaps reluctantly, the cats.

RELATED: Are Israel’s stray cats a cause for concern?

It could also be argued that the people of Israel also accept them because many feed them and interact with them in a kindly way. I do not think that Israeli citizens living in Israel have, in genral, the same negative attitude towards community cats as can be seen in parts of America for instance. They are more respectful but some citizens are concerned about their presence. This is borne out by the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that, through a specific law, bans the declawing of cats. A definite indication that this is a country with, in general, a respectful attitude towards animals.

Protest concerning the cats of Israel
Protest concerning the cats of Israel. Photo: Moran Maayan.

British contribution

Now to the question in the title. When the British occupied Palestine under the British Mandate between 1920 and 1948 it is said that they brought over from Britain domestic cats to act as rat catchers. It’s quite a convenient story. They state that these cats procreated and by implication now form the foundation of the 2 million or more feral cats in Israel.

The stories do not tell us how many domestic cats were imported. I would suggest that it wasn’t that many. I would also suggest that perhaps some individual British officials or immigrants brought cats with them but the numbers were probably relatively insignificant.

To be kind, let’s say that the British contributed to a certain extent to the current stray cat problem but it was probably a small contribution, may be insignificant. We don’t know.

The Fertile Crescent

What we do know is that Israel is in what was is termed The Fertile Crescent. This is a crescent-shaped area of fertile land where farming took place 20,000 years ago and earlier. And we know that the first N. African wildcats were domesticated in this Fertile Crescent. So, we are quite certain that the first domestic cats lived in this crescent-shaped area which includes Israel about 14,000-10,000 years ago.

Fertile Crescent showing Cyprus
Fertile Crescent showing Cyprus where the remains of probably one of the first domestic cats was unearthed with their owner. They were dated to 9,500 years ago.

And therefore, there were domestic cats in Israel 10,000 years ago and they’ve been there ever since. Plenty of time, therefore, to procreate and build numbers to the millions. There has been a lack of desire by some people to spay and neuter domestic cats. No doubt like in any other country there has also been poor quality cat caregiving which might be better described as careless cat ownership. This allows domestic cats to wander and become stray cats which is particularly likely in a warm climate. They procreate and create stray/feral cats.

Feral cat Jaffa Tel Aviv Israel
Feral cat Jaffa Tel Aviv Israel. Picture in the public domain.


The failure to sterilise cats may in part be due to a religious belief that sterilisation is against their religion. The Israel agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said in 2019, on my report, that castrating cats is contrary to Jewish religious law.

RELATED: “Non-religious Western Jews are the most involved in animal welfare [in Jerusalem]”

This may be why there is not enough commitment to TNR programs in Israel to stabilise the population and reduce it. There has been plenty of time over the past decade and more to introduce TNR programs and if they had been instigated and organised to a sufficient level there would have been a drop in the feral cat population in the country by now. It is a relatively small country where it is more manageable to operate wide-scale TNR programs. I would suggest that there would be enough volunteers bearing in mind the attitude of the citizens of their country who, as mentioned, feed the cats. Feeding cats is part of TNR.


The conclusion as to why there’s a stray cat problem in Israel is probably partly religious and partly a lack of government commitment to do something humanely about it and partly because Israel is one area where the first domestic cats existed about 10,000 years ago. The last piece of the jigsaw might be the British who imported some domestic cats to control rats during their occupation of Palestine. That’s my interpretation. Please comment and correct me if you disagree or have a better argument.


I have had no input in the creation of this video. It is quite nice. It does not cover the ground that I have.

Note: This is a video from another website which is embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

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