I forget sometimes my daughter was a little girl when we left Anatevka. She remembers life being simpler than it was. I had thought about living in Palestine for many years, so Moshe, Simcha and Jonathan didn’t just convince me to change directions on the spot. I was about to point this out when Arik asked another question that I wanted to hear Devorah answer.
“Are you sorry you came?”
“No, of course not,” Devorah said. “Russia was horrible. We were surrounded by people who despised us because we were Jews. Besides, the weather was awful, we froze half the year.”
“Well, the weather here’s better, but that’s about it. We’re still despised.”
“Yes, but one day we will have our own state and it won’t matter what others think.”
Arik snickered. “If it is God’s will, and we fight well, we may have a state. But it will be a very small island surrounded by an ocean of hatred. We will always have to worry about what our neighbors think.”
“Aren’t you scared to fight? There are so many more Arabs, and your friend said the British help them.”
“Yes, one of the men who brought you here.”
“Oh, you mean Yossi. He’s a bit of a hothead, but he’s a good fighter. He’s also right. The British have no intention of carrying through with the Balfour Declaration. What’s in it for them? Their main interest is in securing this region within their sphere of interest.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Devorah, the British want to expand their empire. They want access to any resources that might be found underneath the sand and to maintain control over land and sea routes to Africa and Asia. If they deliver on their promise to the handful of Jews in Palestine, they’ll anger millions of Arabs throughout the Near East. They can’t afford to do that.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
My daughter is still so innocent. I never told her about my visit with Sheikh Jabber. Maybe it is time I explained that life here will not necessarily be safer than in Russia.
“I’m a soldier, not a prophet Devorah. My guess is the British will try to have it both ways. String the Jews along with promises of independence and do the same for the Arabs. Our leaders will go along, but the Arabs will revolt. They see us as interlopers, foreigners stealing their land. After all, this is their country. They have lived here for hundreds of years, so it’s only natural that they would see us as invaders. Why should they share their land with us?”
My ears perked up hearing Arik’s analysis. It was clear that he understood better than most how the Arabs felt. Maybe he had also met with Sheikh Jabber.
“The British might restrict Jewish immigration in the hope that this will pacify the Arabs,” Arik continued. “It won’t. The Arabs will never be happy as long as Jews are in Palestine.”
“But why can’t we live together? The Arabs in the villages around the kibbutz have caused us no trouble; we’ve been friends for years. I take care of some of their children when they’re sick. Even the Bedouins have left us alone, even though I know they’ve raided other kibbutzim.”
I involuntarily coughed.
“Papa, stop eavesdropping.”
“What? What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Go to sleep!”
“It’s okay. I’m not giving away any secrets. The truth is most Arabs are content. In fact, many are moving to the cities with the largest Jewish populations because they’ve heard the living conditions are better than in their villages. The average Arab wants the same thing as the rest of us, a job, a home, food for their family, peace of mind. Their leaders feel threatened by any improvement in the life of the fellaheen. They see their dominance over the peasants being eroded and are determined to maintain their control.”
“Can’t we convince those average Arabs that we mean them no harm?”
“I’m afraid not. They are easily manipulated, especially by religious leaders like the Mufti. Neither the bourgeois Christian Arabs nor the Muslims will ever accept us and, unfortunately, they can stir the masses against the yishuv.”
“But it’s our land too.”
“They can’t accept that and won’t.
Devorah’s face dropped. “So you will fight the Arabs so we can control Palestine.”
“I hope not. None of us want that. Right now we’re just trying to protect ourselves.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.