“All we would have to do is build houses,” Tevye said after they had circled the property.
One did not have to be an expert in farming to see that the plateau was ideally suited for crops. Also, the view which the site commanded overlooking the surrounding valleys had obvious strategic advantages. Furthermore, the Muktar assured them, as long as they were his neighbors, he would protect them and keep other, less friendly tribes away.
The hearty feast, the beauty of the region, and the Arab’s sincerity combined to convince the Jews. But to everyone’s surprise, Elisha shook his head, no. As far as he was concerned the site was out of the question. The altitude of the plateau would make for brutal winters. Plus, the site was in the middle of nowhere, a long six-hour journey from Zichron Yaacov, and a two to three day excursion to Jerusalem, Jaffa, or Tiberias.
“Who needs to be close to Jaffa?” Tevye asked.
Elisha walked over to his friend and took him a few steps to the side.
“If we seem too eager, the cost of the land will be four times the price. Abdulla may be a decent man, but he’s still an Arab. He’ll flash a big, sincere smile and let us pay ten times what the property is really worth. You’ve seen his village. They need the money even more than we need the land. I grew up with the Moslems, so leave the bargaining to me.”
Sure enough, the Muktar wanted the equivalent of fifty francs per dunam, almost five times the amount which the Baron had paid for the Morasha site. When Elisha told the Arab that the price was outrageous, a look of insult spread over his face, and he angrily walked away. The Yemenite winked at his friends and motioned with his head for them to follow him as he walked to his horse. Seeing that the Jews were getting ready to leave, the Muktar turned around and told them to wait. He had reconsidered the matter. Because he liked them so much and wanted them as neighbors, he would subtract five francs per dunam off of the price. Elisha mounted his horse. The other Jews did the same.
“Twenty francs per dunam,” the Yemenite said.
“Twenty francs!” the Arab exclaimed. “For a choice piece of land like this? Where else in Palestine can you find such excellent land?”
The Muktar bent down and scooped up a handful of brown soil. He continued his sales pitch, listing all of the land’s many praises. More than that – the land was an inheritance from his father. How could he let it go for so much less than its value?
“Thirty francs per dunam,” Elisha said with the face of a card player.
“Get down from your horses and we will talk,” Abdulla said.
“Why get down when we will only have to mount once again?” the Yemenite answered. “We are poor farmers with barely enough food for our families. Even if we were to sell the land we own now, we wouldn’t have enough money to meet the price you are asking.”
The Arab nodded his head.
“I understand,” he answered. “We are also poor people. The land is our only wealth. I cannot give it away for less than its worth.”
Solemnly, he walked to his horse and mounted.
“Of course, we can still be friends,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Elisha agreed.
“You have an open invitation to visit our village.”
“And you and your people are welcome in Morasha,” the Yemenite said.
Elisha raised his hand in a wave and wished the Arab shalom. He yanked the reins of his horse and started to ride away. The other Jews followed. After some moments, the Muktar called for them to wait and galloped alongside them.
“Give me thirty-five francs per dunam, and the land is yours.”
“Thirty,” Elisha answered. “And only if our main Company office in Paris agrees to the price.
“Company?” the Arab inquired. “What company? I thought you were farming the land on your own.”
Elisha explained that any transaction for land would have to be approved by the Jewish Colony Association which was headed by the Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Paris. When Abdulla heard the name of the Baron, rubles shone in his eyes. He started to yell. Soon both he and Elisha were shouting. Their hands flew in the air like roosters fighting over the same cob of corn.