From both a military and Zionist point of view, Ben Zion rejected Perchik’s conception completely. If the Jewish people were to rebuild their nation in Israel, Jewish sovereignty, and Jewish sovereignty alone, would have to be imposed throughout all off its borders. If a foreigner wanted to live in Israel, he would first have to sign a document recognizing that Eretz Yisrael was the Land of the Jews.
“Our friend, Don Quixote, proposes to do battle with all of our neighbors,” Perchik quipped.
“When all of the Jews in the world return to populate our borders, we will have the strength to overcome all of our enemies,” Ben Zion declared.
“Why fight when we can live side-by-side with our cousins in peace?” Perchik rebutted.
“Your cousins don’t want peace. They want the whole land. To their way of thinking, it’s theirs.”
“All the people who have been living here have a justified claim. Whatever parcels of land we can buy and reclaim, we shall. As for the rest, agreements can be made, respecting each other’s rights.”
“The Turks and the Arabs are scoundrels from birth,” Ben Zion insisted. “Their agreements are not worth the paper on which they are written.”
“That remains to be seen,” Perchik argued. “Besides, who made you such an expert on this part of the world?”
“I’ve dealt with them enough. Their whole culture is founded on falsehood and theft.”
“That is a racist remark,” Perchik exclaimed.
It was difficult for Tevye to remain silent in such a fervent debate. He made a noise in his throat, as if to attract their attention.
“By all means,” Ben Zion said. “Let’s hear from our learned friend, Tevye.”
“A learned man, I am not,” Tevye responded. “But it is written in the Torah that the children of Ishmael are highwaymen and scoundrels who live by the sword.”
“There, you have it – straight from the Bible,” Ben Zion said, as if to prove his point.
“Since when do you believe in the Bible?” Perchik asked.
“The question seems to be a straightforward matter of law,” Tevye continued, remembering the parable of the rabbi at Ruchel’s wedding. “If a man owns a house and thieves come and force him to move, and then other thieves come along and chase out the first robbers, and then more robbers follow, one after the other, each one taking the house from the next – when the original owner returns, it is still his house, is it not? The others simply stole it from him, one after the other, but they cannot legally claim it is theirs.”
Ben Zion nodded. In this instance the laws of the Torah were in accord with his way of thinking.
“The Arabs believe in squatter’s rights,” Perchik said.
“The Bible is our deed to this Land,” Tevye argued. “It is recorded there time and again that God gave this Land to the Jews.”
“That’s what you say,” the girl, Sonia, injected.
Tevye looked over at her in surprise. Quarrels were known to occur in the best of families, but for a strange girl to publicly challenge the words of a man twice her age, that was unheard of.
“It is not what I say, but what the Bible teaches,” Tevye answered patiently.
“Who says that the Bible is right?” the girl challenged. “If you ask me, it is all a big fairytale.”
Tevye felt it improper to enter into a religious debate with the bad-mannered creature, but her impudence had to be put in its place.
“No doubt your father, and his father before him, and his father before him, and all of your ancestors for over four-thousand years were fools until you came along with your superior wisdom,” Tevye said mockingly.
The girl blushed. Ben Zion laughed.
“I suppose you believe that Jonah was eaten by a whale!” the girl quipped.
“Of course,” Tevye answered.
“And that Bilaam’s ass opened his mouth and talked?”
“Yes,” Tevye said. “Is that so surprising? You yourself are a living example that a dumb, brainless creature can speak.”
Ben Zion slapped his hands on his knees and roared with laughter. Flustered, the girl stood up and glared at him.
“You’ll be sorry,” she warned.
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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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