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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nineteen: A Trail of Tomatoes

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“We can’t just shoot them,” another kibbutznik said. “I think Mendelevitch is right. Let the Habok or the Turkish magistrate deal with the Arabs.”

Surprisingly, Ben Zion’s friend, Ari, agreed.

“It sounds like a sensible plan,” he said. “I think we should give it a try. What do you say, Tevye?”

To Tevye’s way of thinking, if the Turkish officials were anything like the commissioners of the Czar, appealing to them for assistance was a total waste of time. Then again, violating the commandment not to murder was out of the question. Of course, if someone tried to kill you, it was a man’s duty to rise up and kill the assailant first. But for the theft of tomatoes, as far as Tevye recalled from his studies, the death penalty didn’t apply.

“I suggest that we take their horses and the two wagons with the tomatoes and return to the kibbutz,” he said. “That should teach them a lesson.”

“Here here,” Ari agreed.

Mendelevitch wasn’t convinced.

“What’s to stop them from going to the Habok themselves and claiming we stole their wagons? In the name of the peace initiative which the kibbutz membership voted upon, I insist on handing this matter over to the official authorities.”

Once again, Ben Zion’s desire for revenge was frustrated. Glum faced, he stood aiming his gun at the Arabs while Mendelevitch galloped off to fetch the Turkish district magistrate. The scene remained frozen that way for ten minutes. Then, fed up with waiting, the Arab women picked up their long skirts and began walking away. Ben Zion’s threats and shots in the air didn’t faze them. Either they knew he wouldn’t shoot them, or they simply didn’t care. Even when his bullets exploded the dirt at their feet, they kept walking back to their village.

“They will bring reinforcements,” he warned.

“You can’t shoot them – they’re women,” Tevye said.

Frustrated, Ben Zion lowered his rifle. He ordered the Arab drivers to turn the wagons around and head back toward the kibbutz.

“There is no point in waiting here,” he said. “If their friends try to come to their rescue, it’s better for us to be back at the kibbutz where we can strengthen our forces.”

The Turkish Habok was the chief of police in the area. The magistrate was above him in power, but the magistrate was more like a governor, in charge of the district in an administrative way. When disputes arose involving the local populace, it was the Habok’s job to find a solution. Punishments included fines, imprisonment, and expulsion from the country. Occasionally cases were brought to court. Matters of an especially sensitive nature, such as the dealings of Baron Rothschild, were handled directly by the Turkish Military Governor of Palestine, the infamous Jamal Pasha.

The Habok in Tiberias had no great love for the Jews. But since Shoshana was isolated in the hills, the kibbutznikim rarely had dealings with him. Once a month, he would arrive at the kibbutz with several soldiers, as if on patrol of the area, to ask if they had any problems. The Jews treated him with a show of respect, since he could order the destruction of buildings which the settlers erected in excess of the quotas designed to keep Zionist expansion to a minimum. Accordingly, the kibbutz council leaders would pour him glasses of wine until a suitable feast could be cooked. Finally, after gulping down all of the food set before him, and receiving some generous gift, he would rise from the dining-hall table and lead his men back to Tiberias.

Accompanied by Mendelevitch and three Turkish soldiers, the Habok arrived in Shoshana wearing his official white uniform with shining buttons, polished boots, and a tall red turban on his head. Ben Zion related the story in all of its details, including the wounding of Peter, and the argument over the wells. As Perchik stood silently listening with a serious look on his face, Ben Zion told the Habok about the agreement the kibbutz had made with the sheik, and how the Arabs had broken its terms. Before doing anything else, the Turkish official dismounted from his horse and walked to a wagon to squeeze a few red-ripe tomatoes. Polishing a choice sample on the side of his jacket, he opened his mouth and took a big bite.

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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