December 4, 2009
FOR most of us, a rose is a beautiful flower that blooms on bushes amid thorns. For Israeli blacksmith Yaron Bob, it can blossom out of a Kassam rocket.
A 38-year-old art teacher, Bob has spent the past year molding missiles fired into Israel by Hamas into metal roses.
Bob lives on Moshav Yated in the western Negev, near the Gazan border. "I have a passion for metal," the blacksmith told news agency Israel Today. "I find it fascinating the idea of making a work of art from a piece of metal."
During Operation Cast Lead, Bob had an urge to create something out of the missiles that had been falling on the area for eight years.
However, he had a specific idea in mind. "When I got my first Kassam, I tried making several artifacts out of it. But only recently, in this last Gaza war, the idea [of making roses] just popped out and [I thought] it was meant to be," he said.
"I didn't want to take a rocket and weld it together so that you could still tell it was a rocket. I wanted to take it, change it and create something new," he added.
The Jewish State has often been looked upon negatively in world media, and it was important for Bob to show who its citizens really are.
"Israel doesn't just throw rockets [at] people. And when they are thrown [at] us, I turn them into roses," he said. "It is powerfully meaningful when a missile that is used for killing is turned into a sign of beauty, growth and prosperity."
So far, Bob has produced approximately 150 roses, using Kassams the Israel Police have stored. With the assistance of just a hammer, anvil and stove, Bob molds the roses on his own, taking about three hours per flower.
The process is the same for each rose. Firstly, Bob takes a Kassam and cuts the fuselage shaft into rings. Then, employing furnace and blowtorch heat, he cuts the rings into straight strips, and slices slits at regular intervals on one end. This part eventually becomes the "petals".
Using his anvil and hammer, he makes half of the strip into a thin "stem", then slowly curves the flat bit at the top into a spiral, giving the structure of the blossom.
He then pries away at the edges of the blossom with needle-nose pliers to give the "petals" their shape and fine detail. Every rose is welded onto a metal base, which is shaped like the map of Israel, showing the location where the Kassam fell.
The map does not demarcate the borders of Gaza or the boundary of the West Bank, but Bob told The New York Times the reason for this was not political - in fact, quite the opposite. It is "because I am not trying to say this is mine, and this is yours", he said.
Bob has sold the roses through his website, mostly to American Jews. "It's people from abroad, who have the rose in their lounges - that makes me happy. This is my contribution to Israel," he said.
In October, two US immigrants - Chaim Pinsky and Michael Gerbitz - met the artist and loved his idea. They decided to use "roses from Kassams" as a tool to promote solidarity among supporters of Israel.
Through a joint venture with Operation Lifeshield - an organization that provides Israeli communities with air-raid shelters - the roses are being marketed to Diaspora Jews.
The proceeds of the project are going to build reinforced concrete shelters for the residents of Ashkelon.
Bomb shelters already in existence in Ashkelon are considered insufficiently widespread, because the advance warning for an incoming Gazan Kassam rocket can be as little as 15 seconds.
The cost of the portable bunkers, which can be easily transported on the back of a flatbed truck, ranges between $US19,000 and $US36,000.
"Our goal is to raise $US250,000 by selling these roses," Pinsky explained. A portion from each purchase goes towards the shelters, he added.
"It is powerfully meaningful when a missile that is used for killing is turned into a sign of beauty, growth and prosperity."
"Our attempt is to make a peaceful, better future," Pinsky said. "The message is clear: take a rocket, a sign of destruction and despair, and transform it into a beautiful rose - our symbol of hope and tranquility."
Bob added that people who have received a rose said it has served as a poignant reminder about the challenges Israel faces. "When the whole world comes and says 'why do you fight', we say this is the reason," he said, holding up the rose.
Roses have already been presented to US Senator John Kerry, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "Having the rose in Clinton's or the UN secretary's lounge puts Israel at the top of their thoughts," said Bob.
His artwork has mostly drawn a positive response from Israelis in the area, although the reaction has not been universal. Oshrit Aburmad told a Times reporter that she didn't approve of the idea of turning Kassams into art because she doesn't want a reminder of the attacks. "It will only take us back there again," she said.
However, Yaffa Malka, another Sderot resident, disagreed. "I think remembrance is always a good thing, and the coming generation and the children who grew up in the shadow of Kassams can tell and show this," she said.
Bob told Israel Today that each rose also represents his fervent wish for peace with his Gazan neighbors - a sentiment he said is shared by the rest of the country as well.
"Every person that buys this work of art knows that the people of Israel are always looking for peace. We always strive to find beauty in every person, the Palestinians included," he said.