Terror or crime? Farmer faces foreclosure after flowers poisoned

Reuven Michaeli's fields of flowers were poisoned - but it's not clear how or why.

Bruria Efune & Arutz 7 Staff ,

Some of the dead anemone
Some of the dead anemone
Reuven Michaeli

It was January 20th, 2019, when Reuven Michaeli, an anemone farmer, went out with his workers to check on the flowers. They were preparing to harvest them the next day for the peak season, with an estimated wholesale value of NIS 3 million ($839,537). What they found was a nightmare.

The entire crop was scorched. Where beautiful anemone had been growing, there were only rows and rows of dead and wilted flowers.

“We called investigators, they took a sample to the lab, and found that the flowers had been treated with an herbicide inhibitor,” explained Michaeli. “This is a substance meant for strong weeds, not gentle flowers.”

Instead of harvesting beautiful flowers, Michaeli’s employees spent the next day clearing out wilted ones, putting them into the trash.

Michaeli was in shock, dumbfounded. “I don’t even own this chemical. I don’t know how it got here. I don’t have any enemies, who would do this?”

Reuven Michaeli married his wife and best friend, Amirah in 1976. Out of Zionist passion, they applied for an economic development program in Israel’s north, and were granted a large area of barren land in the historical Moshav Zippori, for agricultural use. With hard work over the course of 43 years, he and his wife managed to grow vegetables, and anemone flowers - known in Israel as “kalaniyot.”

The Michaelis soon began to win prestigious awards for excellence in farming, and welcomed two children into their idealistic life.

In 2012, Amirah Michaeli began a difficult battle with cancer.

“She was a strong woman,” her husband remembered. “She focused on her children and grandchildren, and the flowers. Growing kalaniyot in Israel gave her life.”

In 2017, after a five-year battle, Amirah passed away, leaving her husband alone to care for their fields. Growing the flowers soon took over as a symbol of his love for Amirah.

“We did it because we were Zionists. We wanted to take barren land and bring out the beauty that Israel is. That was our life together, for forty years.”

In recent years, Israeli vegetable farmers have been struggling to meet the lower prices of international imports, with supermarkets demanding prices that local farmers can barely meet. Michaeli continued to grow vegetables, but put a stronger focus on his flowers, which remained profitable.

Now, with his peak season harvest in the dumpster, Michaeli can’t meet his bills or keep paying his hundreds of employees. His fields are under threat of foreclosure if he doesn’t meet his dues within the month.

Some of Michaeli’s friends have opened a crowdfunding campaign, in an attempt to help him get back on his feet.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I am barely alive anymore.” Michaeli admits. “Amirah would not let me give up the flowers. This was our life.”

Investigators are still trying to determine who poisoned Michaeli’s flowers. No employees have come forward to admit negligence, and the substance was not one kept in the farm’s supply. Deliberate crime has not been ruled out, but there are no suspects, and Michaeli can’t think of anyone who would want to wrong him.

The area has been victim to agricultural terror in the past.

There is no agricultural insurance in Israel which covers crime or employee negligence, and terror compensation requires significant evidence. As a result, Michaeli is left to recover the loss on his own, or give up his fields - a move which would leave hundreds of workers unemployed, and him alone, once again.

In a statement, an Israel Police spokesman said: "The incident is still being investigated. We are looking to see if there are any suspects in the area who could've caused the damage. We are also looking to see if the incident itself took place as a result of a mixture of components that was used by the owner that was inappropriate that could've caused the damage."

Entire fields were poisoned Reuven Michaeli
The field of flowers Reuven Michaeli

Picking the poisoned flowers Reuven Michaeli