Was It Really, A No Man’s Land?
Bowed by poverty and disease, the inhabitants are hardly noticeable to a Victorian gentleman…
How can this be, I ask myself in another millennium. How is it possible that my great-grandfather does not see?
There are more than half a million Arabs, Bedoins and Druze in Palestine in 1897.
There are twenty cities and towns, and hundreds of villages.
So how can the pedantic Bentwich not notice them? How can the hawk-eyed Bentwich not see from the tower of Ramleh that the land is taken?
That there is another people now occupying the land of his ancestors?
I am not critical or judgmental. On the contrary, I realize that the land of Israel on his mind is a vast thousand square kilometres, which includes today’s Kingdom of Jordan. And in this vast land there are fewer than a million inhabitants.
There is enough room there for the Jewish survivors of anti-Semitic Europe.
Greater Palestine can be home to both Jew and Arab.
I also realize that the land Bentwich observes is populated by many Bedouin nomads. Most of the others who live there are serfs with no property rights. The vast majority of the Palestinians of 1897 live in humble villages and hamlets.
Their houses are nothing but dirt huts. Bowed by poverty and disease, they are hardly noticeable to a Victorian gentleman.
It is also likely that Herbet Bentwich, a white man of the Victorian era, cannot see non-whites as equals.
He might easily persuade himself that the Jews who will come from Europe will only better the lives of the local population, that European Jews will cure the natives, educate them, cultivate them.
That they will live side by side with them in an honourable and dignified manner.
But there is a far stronger argument: In April 1897 there is no Palestinian people. There is no real sense of Palestinian self-determination, and there is no Palestinian national movement to speak of. Arab nationalism is awakening in the distance; in Damascus, in Beirut, in the Arabian peninsula. But in Palestine there is no cogent national identity.
Excerpted from My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. Published in 2013 by Spiegel&Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group.
Stay in The Farm, Or..!
Surely there was space enough in this confinement, even for a person belonging to a tribe that was used to wandering ….
Cupido Cockroach’s mother had simply taken the day off from her work on the lands, without asking permission. She was an ordinary woman of Hottentot tribe, indolent and dirty like all of them (as the farmer would have attested), but without deceit or malice. Her baas had found her years before in the region of Namaqualand, where he had gone with a number of his neighbours in search of game and labourers. The journey had been a great success. On their way the commando had shot the following:
a single camelopardalis (a rare beast, almost as improbable as a unicorn)
and eight Bushmen
Several Bushmen children were captured and strung on a long riem by their necks, tied to the commanding farmer’s horse, and brought back to be tamed as field labourers and wagon leaders. On the way back, inland from Saldanha Bay, a small band of marauding Hottentots was also rounded up and persuaded, one way or another, to accompany the farmers back to the Koup where they were to be indentured. It turned out that this particular woman was something of a troublemaker, as she had an unfortunate tendency to abscond, which meant that valuable time had to be spent pursuing her, bringing her back and duly punishing her according to the word of God. The farmer took great pains (and also, it must be said, inflicted great pain) in his efforts to inculcate in her an appreciation of her condition as an indentured labourer.
And in the end, it would seem, his perseverance bore fruit as she appeared in due course to peel off her early resentment and resistance like an old skin and became more compliant. At last she seemed to accept that for the rest of her life she would be confined to that farm. And surely, there was space enough, even for a person belonging to a tribe that was used to wandering across the wide land through the changing seasons, following game, new rains, the stars and the wind.
-Excerpted from Praying Mantis, by Andre Brink.Published by Secker & Warburg, in Great Britain, in 2006.