One of the strangest chapters in the history
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s 1987, and the first Palestinian popular movement in the West Bank is rising. Residents want local alternatives to Israeli goods, including milk, which they’ve been buying from an Israeli company. And so begins the strange story of the 18 cows.
The plot is hatched by pacifist intellectuals and professionals. Not your typical dairy farmers. These “lactivists” forge ahead anyway, buying 18 cows and smuggling them into the West Bank town of Beit Sahour.
But who knows anything about cows? These newly min ted farmers have to learn the most basic skills — even how to milk their charges, which isn’t as easy as it looks.
Eventually, the cows come to the attention of Israeli authorities, and the chase is on—a cat-and-mouse (or soldier-and-cow) game writ large, as the cows shuttle from barn to barn, with their pursuers determined to find them. The cows became legendary and the “intifada milk” (sometimes distributed under cover of darkness) becomes a part of daily life.
“We are Palestinians. We deserve to have a home, we deserve to have our land, we deserve to have freedom and we deserve to have cows.”— DR. MAJED NASSAR
Acclaimed Palestinian artist Amer Shomali, who illustrated The Wanted 18 and co-directed it with veteran Canadian director Paul Cowan, watched the Intifada unfold as a teenager, from the Syrian refugee camp where he grew up. His family was from Beit Sahour, a town he knew only from family stories and news reports on TV. And then he read a comic book about the cows, depicting them as sassy bovines who see absurdity all around them.
Shomali and Cowan tell this one-of-a-kind story through a unique combination of stop-motion animation, interviews, drawings and archival material, bringing to life one of the strangest chapters in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now, more than two decades after the last cow vanished, Shomali and Cowan meet the people behind the cows: the schoolteacher who smuggled them in, the doctor who defied a curfew to deliver milk, and the butcher who, ironically, provided a safe haven for the cows when the search for them intensified.
The Wanted 18 offers a unique vision of ingenuity and resilience in the face of impossible odds. It introduces us to the principled activists who participated in the dairy, their families and friends, and the people whose lives were changed by it. Poignant, thought-provoking, both humorous and sombre, it shows the power of grassroots activism, peaceful resistance and courage in a part of the world that is fraught with negative imagery and despair.