“I sympathize with your plight,” the dapper dresser told them. “I sincerely do. And so does the Company. For this reason, I have brought a team of experts to assist in the great task before you.”
With him were an agronomist, a botanist, an engineer, and a mechanic whose job it was to study the area and make a report to the central office detailing how Morasha could be built into a money-making project. For the moment, Tevye’s anger abated. Though he didn’t know what an agronomist did, he was impressed by the professionalism of the contingent. None of the settlers understood French, so no one knew what the experts were saying, but they certainly gave out an impression that they knew about farming. They spent a full day exploring the site, taking measurements with some sort of surveying instrument Tevye had never see, making notes, testing the soil and water, and even taking some pictures with a camera they had brought in their wagon. At the end of the day, the settlers were handed a list of crops to plant. Seeds of mulberry, fenugreek, lentils, sorghum, sesame, maize, tobacco, sunflowers, and almonds were to be shipped out immediately, though, of course, they didn’t arrive until the planting season was over.
A short time afterward, a “welcoming committee” of Arabs came on a peace mission. Their caped and caftaned leaders were called Muktar Abdul Abdulla and Muktar Muchmad Mohammed. They said that they represented the villages in the area, and that they had come to make a treaty with the Jews. Elisha, the Yemenite, spoke Arabic fluently, and he served as translator and spokesman for the Morasha pioneers. He said that a Muktar was the chief of a village, like the sheik of a bedouin tribe. Tables were set up outside and refreshments were served to the guests. Muktar Abdulla said that they recognized the right of the Jews to settle the country, saying that it was written in their holy Koran that the Jews would return to the Land of Canaan one day, and that Allah had promised the Land to the children of Jacob. They wanted to make peace, to work together, and develop the region. The Muktar said he held legal claim to a large tract of land on the other side of the mountain, which was far superior to the Morasha site, and he was willing to sell it to the Jews. The land could house thousands of families, he said, and its water supply was abundant. Furthermore, he confided over a second glass of vodka, the Arabs wanted to unite with the Jews to throw out the Turks. They had 300 trained soldiers ready for battle, but the Jews would have to supply them with guns. When they conquered the Turks, they said, the Jews could have Eretz Yisrael with all of its Biblical borders, while the Arabs would take the lands which Allah had given to Ishmael.
Tevye ordered his daughters to gather the food which was set aside for the Sabbath and to prepare a festive banquet. Hadn’t Abraham welcomed all travelers into his tent, even idol worshippers with dirt on their feet? After all, didn’t the Jews and the Arabs share the same ancestral father, Abraham? Furthermore, the Arabs had come with an offer of peace, and shalom, the rabbis taught, was the foundation of the world.
“How can you trust them?” Bat Sheva asked. “Remember what they did to Ben Zion.”
“May his soul rest in peace,” Tevye said.
True, Arabs had murdered Ben Zion, but maybe the tribes in the region were different. They certainly acted sincere.
“Obviously, these Arabs are more religious,” he said. “And though I don’t understand what they are saying, your father, Tevye, has done business in the far corners of the world, and he knows when a man can be trusted. So hurry and prepare us a feast for our neighbors.”
“What about food for Shabbos?” Yankele asked, reluctant to slaughter a chicken for a weekday repast.
“God won’t let us go hungry on the Sabbath,” Tevye assured him.
Bottles of wine and Arak appeared, and the Arabs and Jews sat down for a meal. True, the Arab soldiers escorting the chiefs kept their rifles strapped over their chests, and Goliath never wandered far from his ax, but a spirit of brotherhood surrounded the occasion. Fortunately, LeClerc was absent, away on one of his frequent trips to Jaffa, where he was rumored to have a mistress. The Muktars, Tevye noticed, religiously abstained from liquor. For entertainment, two of the Arab horsemen demonstrated their skill with their swords, slicing melons in half at full gallop, and Hillel played his accordion. Inspired by the liquor and the prospects of acquiring a better piece of land, Tevye balanced a bottle of vodka on his head and taught Muktar Abdulla, how to dance like a Hasidic Jew. By the end of the banquet, Tevye had made a new friend. The Muktar bowed low and invited the settlers of Morasha to visit his village for a tour of the property which his tribe was offering to sell. A date was arranged, and the Arabs rode off. Immediately, Nachman wrote a letter to the Baron regarding the available land, promising to forward more details as soon as they inspected the site and determined its price. But a reply from Paris was never received. When LeClerc was told about the visit of the Arabs and the proposition they had made, he wrote his own letter to Paris, advising the Baron against further land acquisitions in the region, at least until the Morasha experiment proved that the area was conducive to increased Jewish settlement.