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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Sixteen: A Vote is Taken


Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

Ben Zion’s troop returned empty-handed to the well. They found Tevye hiding behind a tree, sunburned and poised to shoot. Back at Shoshana, a community meeting was once again summoned by clanging the dining-hall bell. Everyone in the kibbutz gathered to express an opinion. Perchik and Ben Zion sat at the head table, representatives of the two leading camps. Within minutes a fiery debate erupted over the best course of action to follow – whether to negotiate with the Arabs, or to declare outright war. Shouts in Russian and Hebrew were heard from all corners. Tevye did not understand every word, but he gathered that Perchik led the pacifists, while Ben Zion championed a more militant posture. As far as Tevye could tell, the settlers were divided in half. Even the women participated, shouting out opinions as vituperatively as the men. The milkman had never seen anything like it. In fact, all of his life, he had never attended at a gathering where men and women sat mixed together. Even at a wedding, the sexes were kept discreetly apart.

During the week-long conversations in Perchik’s home, Tevye had learned enough history to grasp the roots of the problem. Rome’s long conquest over Eretz Yisrael had been brought to an end by the Persians. Omayyad Moslems chased out the Persians, overcoming the last Roman strongholds. Then came the Crusades, as the Christians set out to conquer the Holy Land by slaughtering all of the Moslems and Jews in the country. Then Mongul hordes swept through the region, leaving behind a devastating trail of destruction. Cities were razed, landscapes burned, fields uprooted, and the population terrorized. Two-hundred years of savagery followed as warring Moslem tribes battled for control. They had names which Tevye could scarcely pronounce – Abbasids, Fatamids, Seljuks, and the barbarous Mamluks. Throughout the rampage of history, Jewish life in the Holy Land always continued, like a candle that never burns out. Finally, for the last four-hundred years, the Ottoman Turks had ruled over Palestine. Presently, the country was a hodge-podge of Ottoman districts, ruled over by Turkish Muktars who took orders from Constantinople and Damascus. The Bedouin and Arab tribes who roamed through the country never had ruled over Palestine. Some sheiks possessed legal deeds, but more often than not, they lived far away in other districts. Roaming Arab tribes ignored Turkish law and squatted on lands to which they had no legal right. Thus their claims of land ownership brought them into conflict with the new wave of Jewish settlers who were purchasing tracts of land. These transactions were officially recorded in the Ottoman Land Office in Constantinople, which people were now calling Istanbul. The tiny community of Shoshana was not the first Jewish settlement to find itself at odds with the largely unfounded claims of these nomadic Arab tribes. Further complicating the matter was the lackluster way which the Turks had made surveys and maps. Property boundaries were forever in dispute and detailed deeds were a rarity, if they could be located at all in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the disorganized Istanbul archives.

When the tall, stately figure of Gordon rose in the hall, the noisy, raucous debate momentarily quieted to give the respected visionary a chance to speak.

“Herzl proposed that the benefits of economic advancement would outweigh Arab nationalism,” he said. “We have to let our hard work and economic endeavor convince the people of Palestine that our presence here is a boon to the area and not a threat.”

Following his lead, another intellectual rose to his feet.

“Sokolov wrote that cultural rapprochement would bring a new Palestine civilization. We should invite our Arab neighbors to Shoshana for a social encounter.”

A statesman for Ben Zion’s camp rose in rebuttal.

“Arthur Ruppin asserted that a policy of transfer is the only solution. The Arabs need to be chased out of the Land.”

A roar of approval from the militants sounded throughout the room. With a gavel, Perchik banged on the table.

“You all know how I feel,” he said. “Marxists believe that peace and world unity can only be achieved through a cooperative society – through a pan-worker state without nationalist factions. As Herzl said, if we will it, this region can be a model for the world.”

Ben Zion stood up beside him.

“While we all hope for an ideal future, when it comes to these Bedouin marauders, the only solution is war.”

A woman stood up to express her opinion.

“The Arabs are not the problem,” she shouted. “The Turks are. They are the ones who rule here. They have to be overthrown.”

“Overthrown with what?” Perchik asked. “We barely have rifles for a half dozen men.”

“Overthrown with the truth of our cause,” Peter’s friend, Ari, declared. “We must build a new Jewish state in Palestine.”

Applause broke out in the hall.

“Enough speeches,” another woman yelled. “What are we going to do about the disputed well?”

“The Arabs have no legal claim to the site,” Ben Zion asserted.

“That may be true,” Perchik responded. “But they believe it’s their land.”

“Land ownership is not based on illusions, but on a legal proof of sale. And we have a copy of the deed in our possession.”

“Yes, yes, we all are aware of the legality of our settlement here,” Perchik said. “But these Bedouins have their own customs and beliefs.”

“Are you proposing we pick up and move?” Ben Zion asked.

“No, of course not. I propose that there is enough land and water for everyone. We should meet with them and reach an agreement.”

Once again, there was loud applause in the dining hall.

After a two-hour discussion, a vote was taken. Even the women were allowed to raise hands. Shmuelik stared down at his shoes when all of the bare arms rose up in the air. When the counting of hands was concluded, the outcome was an absolute deadlock.

“I propose that we let the new arrivals take part in the vote,” Ben Zion called out, certain that the religious Jews would share his view that the Land of Israel was the rightful homeland of the Jews.

Immediately, Sonia protested. They were visitors, she said, and not official members of the kibbutz. Renewed shouting erupted. A vote on Ben Zion’s proposal was taken. Again, both sides were even. Perchik banged his gavel on the table. The meeting was declared adjourned. For the moment, no action would be initiated. Instead, they would wait to see how the matter developed. That seemed like a sensible solution to Tevye. As the Talmud taught, if a man doesn’t know what course of action to take, he should just sit and wait.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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