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Flags before statehood for Palestinians

By Dan Morgan and Marwah-Jbara-Tibi
updated 8:49 PM EDT, Tue September 20, 2011
Palestinians make flags in a factory in the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday.
Palestinians make flags in a factory in the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Flagmaker family sees more demand for Palestinian flags
  • Palestinian Authority seeking statehood at the United Nations this week
  • Many Palestinians see success for U.N. bid is low

Hebron, West Bank (CNN) -- Standing under a large poster of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, Nabil Saeed lays out large rolls of red, green, white and black cloth on his workshop table. These are the colors of his homeland, one he hopes will soon become a fully recognized state.

The flag-maker marks the cloth in precise shapes before cutting different colored layers as the hum of a sewing machine is heard from a small room next door.

The Saeed family home in the West Bank city of Hebron has been bustling with activity lately, as they seek to meet the increased demand for Palestinian flags ahead of an expected move by the Palestinian Authority to seek statehood at the United Nations next week.

Having cut the cloth, Saeed and his wife, together with his nephew Mahmoud, sit in a small room, filled with textiles, threads of different colors, and three small tables. Perched upon each table is an old sewing machine, like a relic of a bygone era.

Like clockwork, the pieces of cloth here are passed between them. First, Nabil's nephew, Mahmoud, sews the pieces together, passes them to Saeed's wife, who passes the flag-in-making on to him, who quickly adds the finishing touches and lays it on a pile of flags on the table next to him.

During the past few weeks the three of them have sewn over fifteen thousand flags says Nabil, who has been doing this for over 40 years. His profession has even landed him behind bars in an Israeli prison.

"During the first Intifada we were only producing a very small quantity of flags because it was forbidden, but when the Palestinian Authority arrived we started producing huge quantities," he explains.

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At a time when business is slow, Saeed welcomes the Palestinian authority's U.N. initiative and the public relations campaign behind it. He says it has brought him fresh business, at a time when the global economy and foreign competition has made his job more difficult than ever.

"During the second Intifada we also produced large quantities of flags, but when people started importing the flags from outside with cheaper prices, it was not that good business," Nabil says, remembering that he used to be able to charge the equivalent of about seven dollars for a flag. He says he would be lucky to get four dollars today.

"We used to do thousands of flags before people start importing the flags from China, it's something that affected the prices dramatically. It caused us to stop producing," he says.

But money is not the driving factor for the flag maker, rather he is driven by the dream of finally having a Palestinian State.

"This flag that we sew and will continue to sew, we hope we will see it raised at the United Nations with the rest of the world. This is our hope, and we are sure that one day our flags will be raised in the United Nations and on every international occasion. It is a dream that is coming true, and we hope that our brothers, the Arabs, will support us," the flag makers say.

We are sure that one day our flags will be raised in the United Nations and on every international occasion
Saeed family, makers of Palestinian flags

Mahmoud, Saeed's nephew, agrees.

"Money is not the issue here, what is important is to have a state where we can live in dignity, where we can go wherever we want, where we can visit our holy places and walk our streets without having soldiers stopping us and asking for ID. This would be much better than any quantity of money. Business is important, but living in freedom and dignity is much more important," Mahmoud says.

Yaeem Al-Heleh has been running a printing business just down the road from Saeed's flag factory since the 1980's. Cardboard boxes full of flyers, posters, and small printed flags are stacked in the corner of the room. Nearby, workers use a hot press to flatten the freshly printed flags and others print large posters adorned with the picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat standing next to current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Like his friend Nabil Saeed, Al-Heleh welcomes the extra income the Palestinian statehood campaign has brought, and he too believes the dream it carries is important. "We have been dreaming of having a state since the beginning of occupation. People were very positive towards this campaign. Here in Palestine everybody is supporting this idea. We hope to have the support from the Arab states and the whole world," he says.

Although he, like many, sees the likelihood of Palestinian Authority success at the United Nations Security Council as very low, AL-Heleh says he is hopeful that the Palestinian push for statehood will bring change.

Read what Israel's prime minister thinks about the Palestinian bid

"The flag today has a special meaning, before we used to fight in order to raise it. The flag used to be raised and then the Israeli soldiers used to take it down and now the flag is in a way of getting sovereignty and recognition. Now 130 countries recognize us and are ready to support us, I think it's a dream that could come true," he says.

Sitting behind his sewing machine Nabil Saeed sighs when asked whether he thinks the Palestinian Authority will succeed with its effort this month.

"If we don't succeed in September, it won't be the end and we will continue the resistance until our flag is raised everywhere. I will continue sewing the flag and I will never get bored of it. This is our flag, this is our pride and we will continue raising it all of our lives," he said.

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Nabil Saeed lays out large rolls of red, green, white and black cloth on his workshop table. These are the colors of his homeland, one he hopes will soon become a fully recognized state.
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