“You idiot,” she thought to herself. “Now you have gone and spoiled everything. Now Sonia will have him all to herself. Now he will think you are just a boring, old-fashioned girl from the shtetl.”
Nonetheless, Bat Sheva had made up her mind. She wasn’t going to let him turn her into some little dreidel that he could swirl with his finger. She was a person, not a plaything, and she wanted to be treated that way.
The peace delegation spotted the Arab encampment from the top of a ridge a half-hour ride away from Shoshana. A dozen black Bedouin tents were scattered in the valley below. Instead of rising to a point like regular tents, the nomadic dwellings were spread over large rectangular areas. Each tent housed extended families, from grandparents, to uncles, distant cousins, and in-laws, as well as an assortment of animals. Herds of sheep grazed over the hillsides. Shepherds in white kefiahs and black headbands lounged in the shade of sycamore trees, letting their dogs chase after stray sheep. In the fields, women squatted over rows of vegetable plantings. Camels rested lazily in the sun on their haunches, munching on patches of weeds. Seeing the Jews approaching, a watchman fired a rifle shot in the air. Arabs hurried out from the shade of their tents to see who was coming. Abramson, Bronsky, Karmelisky, Mendelevitch, and Tevye swung their rifles into a readied posture in front of their chests.
“Not so fast,” Perchik said. “We have come to make peace, not to fight.”
“I just want to be ready,” Abramson said. “Just in case.”
As if out of thin air, five riders on horseback came forward to meet them. Four wore the striped gowns and cloaks of tribal soldiers. They were armed with long barreled rifles, and they brandished an assortment of polished daggers and swords in their belts. Their leader sat on a stunning white stallion. He was dressed in the regal headset and robes of a sheik.
Perchik called out, “Shalom.”
The sheik responded in Arabic. While Perchik had picked up the rudiments of the language, he felt more comfortable conversing in either Hebrew or Turkish, the official language of Palestine. Tevye sat poised in the saddle, trying to decipher whatever words he could. The sheik did all of the talking for the Arabs. Later, Perchik explained to Tevye what had transpired.
The sheik claimed that the Jews had illegally settled on their ancestral homeland. When Perchik showed him their deed of purchase, the tribe leader stared at it with a stony expression. The Turks, the Arab maintained, had no right to the land, and no right to sell it. Perchik answered that the nations of the world recognized the four-hundred-year rule of the Turks over the region, and that the Shoshana colony’s deed to the land would be considered valid in any international court. The sheik wasn’t persuaded. The land of the kibbutz, and all of its wells and springs, belonged to his tribe, he maintained.
Within minutes, the Jews were surrounded by fierce-looking tribesmen, dozens of women and children, and the elders of the village. Tevye did not have to count to see that their peace entourage was seriously outnumbered. Sweating from the ride in the sun, he longed for a drink, but he did not want to remove his hand from his weapon. Contrary to tales of Arab hospitality, no one invited them into a tent to relax in the shade and moisten their lips with a little date liquor.
After an intensive discussion, an agreement was reached. The Arabs could keep the disputed well at the edge of the kibbutz. The Jews would fence in the area described in the deed, and the tribe was free to graze their herds everywhere else. As a gesture of goodwill, the Jews would pay the sheik compensative damages, a onetime payment of 500 pounds. In return, the Arabs would sign a document attesting that the settlers of Shoshana were the sole and rightful owners of the acreage. The sheik also promised to return Ben Zion’s horse and his rifle.
“There were two rifles,” Tevye reminded Perchik in Russian.
“It is best not to embarrass him,” Perchik answered.