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First-Hand Reports from Israel/Palestine

Where have all the flowers gone?

View Kate Rafael’s
photo gallery online.

An Israeli truck hauls away the remnants of a Palestinian flower stall.
An Israeli truck hauls away the remnants of a Palestinian flower stall.

by Kate Raphael
International Women’s Peace Service
October 1, 2003

This morning, I got up at 7:30, feeling sick. Cathy, a volunteer from the Bay Area whom I am so lucky to have worked with, was leaving at 8:00 a.m., so I needed to be up to say goodbye, otherwise I would have stayed in bed. Since I was up though, I started thinking about how we should go to the roadblock to see if the soldiers were there causing problems for people. They were yesterday, but I convinced myself it was okay to skip it today. There was a knock at the door. Jean was the only one who was dressed, so she opened it. Naturally, it was our downstairs neighbor, Abu Rabia, who is the Palestinian District Coordinating Liaison, and often lets us know about human rights violations in the area. He told Jean there was something happening near the checkpoint, and suggested she go up on the roof to look. She did, but she could not see anything except a jeep on the road. I dressed quickly, grabbed my phone and camera, and we took off to investigate.

I got to the roadblock and there were no soldiers there. I sat down on the roadblock, and men started gesturing to me to look across the street. Jesh, they said, “beit warad hamsa sneen,” and a word I didn’t know. Hamsa sneen means five years, beit warad is a flower stall. I finally got that they were saying a flower shed, five years old, was being demolished at this moment. I waited for Jean to catch up, and then we quickly went to the scene. Um Mustafa and Um Hassan were there, women I know slightly. Um Hassan held her tiny baby, only two months old. They were standing a little back from the truck with the giant wrecking crane attached, watching the men taking rebar and metal siding out of the shed, piling everything onto the flatbed truck. After a few minutes, they removed the last rods and the whole frame collapsed. Three soldiers stood guarding the scene, keeping the family at bay. They were the worst kind of soldier, young, arrogant, hostile and smartass. Jean asked them why they were demolishing the shed. One of them said, “Because it’s ugly. We don’t want it here in Israel.” Another said, “I woke up this morning and decided it would be fun.” I walked away at that point, because there is no point in arguing with someone like that. It just makes their day. Jean seemed to believe them, and not get that they were in no way responsible for the order, and were just trying to piss her off.

Four Israeli soldiers stand guard as the flower stand is demolished.

The DCO, District Coordinating Officer, was there watching as well. He is a short Druze man, native Arabic speaker, very polite to the people. He always says, “Haj,” “Haji,” when he talks to an older person, just as the Palestinians do. But he is the Israeli army, and in this situation all his politeness does nothing to help. He told me to stop taking pictures. Abu Rabia came and shook hands with the DCO. They talked for a minute, the DCO made a phone call and then said something to AR about “imbarra,” yesterday, and then AR went and talked to the men of the family for a minute and went away. In my understanding and experience, that is typical of what the PNA does for the people.

I stood back with the family, watching the methodical dismantling of their livelihood. What could this little shed possibly be doing to hurt Israel? I could not fathom, what might have prompted the army to even expend this much time and money on such a tiny infraction of their rules. But it is the occupation. It doesn’t have to be logical; it functions mainly because it is arbitrary. If things were done by the book, people would perhaps be able to adjust to the rules. It is not knowing when or if your illegal flower shed will be demolished, or your illegal nice house will be demolished, like Abu Eyad’s in Ar-Ras, or whether your gate will be opened to go to school or not, like the kids in Jbarra, or if there will be curfew today and you will be made to strip in front of your whole village, as happened yesterday in the nearby village of Jemaiin, that keeps people living on pins and needles. This in turn makes them feel that maybe they cannot live here any more, that they should find somewhere else to go, and that of course is what it is all for in the end.

Um Mohammed, the 81-year-old matriarch of the family, had been sitting on the ground, watching the destruction of her family’s property. But now she gestured that she wanted to get up, and Jean and I moved to help her. We more or less lifted her up, I handed her her walking stick, and she started walking toward the men dismantling the shed. The soldiers intercepted her, and her sons moved in quickly, afraid that she would be hurt. As it was, though, they were the ones who were hurting her, because she was insisting on her right to go forward, and they were trying to physically drag her back. She kept reaching out to grab the barbed wire fence, and Jean and I were terrified that she would slice her hand on the sharp bits, but I pretty soon concluded that she knew what she was doing. She seemed distraught and out of control, but I do not think she was. She wanted the army to feel that she might do anything. She yelled at them, and they yelled back at her. The DCO came and tried to reason with her. I tried to go and get a plastic chair from the rubble, for her to sit on, but the soldiers blocked my way. One of them yelled at the women in Hebrew, “go home, this is Israel and you don’t have a right to be here.” The women asked me what they said, and I translated into Arabic. I didn’t want the soldiers to know I understood Hebrew, but I figured they wouldn’t understand Arabic (and certainly not my Arabic) anyway.

Two Palestinian women approach the Israeli soldiers.

The men kept telling me, “Saorinha,” take pictures of it, so I did, even though every time I did the soldiers would yell at me. They threatened to take my camera away, but I could tell that they wouldn’t bother. I felt I had enough, but it’s the only thing I can do in that situation to make the people feel a little better, that I am going to tell the world about the injustice. Photos are at

At the very end, just before they left, I asked the soldiers, “Don’t you feel bad about doing this?”

“No,” said the most aggressive one, the one who had said they were destroying it because it was ugly and that all the land was in Israel.

“Why not?” I persisted. “Because they are not people?”

“Yes,” he spat out. “They are a pile of shit.”

I was stunned. Of course I know that this kind of venomous hatred exists, but I don’t hear it too much. Usually it’s more on the order of, “Well, of course we know it’s not fair, but it’s necessary.” I thought about what to say.

“One day you will regret saying that,” I said. He got into the jeep. I didn’t know if I meant it as a curse, a threat or a wish. I just hope I am right.

P.S. Everyone in our area of course is freaked out about the announcement that the Apartheid Wall will probably be built around Ariel quite soon. Not actually around Ariel, of course, but rather around us. Most of you know that Ariel is only about 2 km from here. The next section to be built will likely be under our window. Our team did a street theater action at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv the other day, to draw attention to the U.S. role in funding this atrocity. You can see pix from our production of “The Wall: Coming Soon to an Embassy Near You.”

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