“Compared to what lay southeast, it is the land of milk and honey,
John still felt the warm glow from the half Guinness as he stood on the
beach. Guinness was not a favorite of his, but who could resist slaking
their thirst at Molly Bloom’s green lacquered Irish Pub, just steps
away from the roaring sea below. Only the top of the red sun was visible
now, slowly sinking into the dark green Mediterranean. The October
breeze was warm and gentle on his face; the beach still crowded; the
rising and falling sea moving onto the beach then receding, drowning
every sound but its own. As he turned to walk down the beach, he could
see the lights of Jaffa and the blinking lighthouse beacon. Over a
hundred years ago! It was there that the Poletsky family came ashore,
there that they viewed the land of their dreams!
To his left, Tel Aviv had turned on its lights, their glow replacing the
light of the sun. What must have it been like then, when his great
grandfather Captain John Nevers had soldiered here and he and his great
grandmother Sarah had fallen in love? After the shameful murder of her
husband, the British community expected her to return to England. She
did not but stayed to devote her life to the young Palestinian children
she loved so dearly.
John Nevers V knew Palestine well. His grandfather had grown up in
Jerusalem, the city that Jews, Christians and Muslims all considered
their spiritual home. As a child of the British community, many of his
friends were British, or members of the other European and North
American enclaves. Yet his grandfather often reminded him that Great
Grandmother Sarah had a different and wider circle of friends that
included Muslims and Jews. His grandfather told him he could often sense
the discomfort that existed with Sarah’s American and European friends
in her presence. Sarah was born a Jew; born in Odessa, became a
Christian like John, and dedicated her life to teaching Palestinian
Muslim children and all those clever things the foreign community might
want to say about Jews and Arabs couldn’t be said in her presence.
The beautiful beach and the Mediterranean before him, and recalling his
visits as an engineer to other parts of the Middle East, it was easy
to see why this land always was fought over, and religion was but one
part of the reason, perhaps not a reason at all, but a justification.
Compared to what lay southeast, it is the land of milk and honey,
Shoes in hand, he stood for a long time and watched the white caps form,
felt the water rush over his feet, and basked in the warm breeze. How
peaceful the land seemed and how blessed! It made him think again of
Grandmother and how she is remembered throughout the world as one of
gallant few who caused the miracle of 1939.
… and now the entire village was out of their houses, beginning to
move closer together as the sound grew louder.
To Yusef, the thin layer of windblown clouds made the moon appear to
race across the sky, lighting the pampas to the horizon. From the west,
storm clouds that seemed to rise out of the ground behind the hills. The
wind increased from the southwest, flattening the tall grass, making the
herd restless; held together only by the dogs that seemed to know which
of the massive bulls might cause the herd to bolt. Yusef smiled as he
watched the dance of the prancing, snorting bulls and the silent dogs
which would dart in to confront the bulls then rush to the next that
might panic the herd. He was one of the first to use herding dogs on the
pampas, importing them from Australia, crosses between English herding
dogs and dingoes.
Five gauchos circled the herd, singing softly to quiet the restless
cattle, nervously watching the lightning bolts flash across the sky to
the west. The thunder claps louder, the lightning bolts coming closer
and more frequent. Yusef has chosen a spot in a draw to make it easier
to control the herd when the storm struck. When the Indian gauchos
spoke of the tall man with the piercing black eyes, they spoke of his
riding and roping skills and of their loyalty to him, and they called
him the Turco. They knew to many it was a derisive name of those who
came from the Middle East, to the gauchos when they spoke of Senor
Yusef, it was a title of respect.
Yusef al-Dajani had collected his cattle over the past week and should
reach the railhead the next day. Since his arrival fifteen years ago, he
had worked to become the estancia owner he was today. Persuading the
Bissett’s to loan him the money almost ten years ago, he had purchased
the 4000 hectare ranch when beef prices were depressed and Alfonso Diaz
wanted to sell and live out his life with his family in Cordoba. There
had been times when Yusef could barely meet the payments on his loan,
but the last years had been good ones. The drought in the United States
had reduced the number of cattle for market and raised the price of
Argentine beef. Getting the herd to the railhead and settling with the
buyer should make him the free and clear owner of the Diaz estancia. He
had not changed the name; he knew that his Arabic name still made him an
outsider with the other ranchers. Like other Arab immigrants, he was a
Turco. Although the Turks had been defeated and swept from Palestine
almost two decades ago, the immigrants were still called Turcos. He
smiled when he the thought of the time twenty years before when the
Turks were his bitter enemy. He knew he was different, too, because he
chose to live on his estancia. Most ranchers with large estancias like
his lived in Cordoba and Buenos Aires, some in Spain and England and had
never been to Argentina.
The moon slid behind the storm clouds; darkness enveloping the pampas.
Only vague outlines, the roaring wind, the bellowing cattle, the excited
voices of the gauchos as they struggled with the dogs to keep the
cattle huddled together. Yusef heard it before it struck. Hail! Stinging
the men and animals, ice pellets quickly coated the earth with a layer
of fast melting ice. Behind the hale came the rain, so heavy that the
men could not see the heads of their horses.
Men and animals no longer could be heard above the roar of pelting ice
and torrential rain. Yusef spurred his mount to move among the gauchos,
shouting to them.
“Move the herd to the top of the hill! Get them out of the draw!”
He could not hear the running water but sensed it, knowing what could
happen if the herd is caught in the torrent that was sure to come.
Quickly, the gauchos circled behind the herd and with the dogs that
seemed to know what had to be done, joined in moving the cattle. Within
minutes, the herd began to move like a single beast. Water began to rush
past the short legs of the Herefords that quickened their pace, sensing
death if they were swept away. As the gauchos cleared the draw, the
hail stopped and the rain slackened to a steady downpour.
The storm ended with the same suddenness as it began. To the west, the
sky turned indigo blue and the moon lit the edges of the racing clouds.
Soon, the moon appeared, brightening the pampas, the terror gone, and
the animals slowly began to herd up and settle down. Many quickly lay
down, once again becoming the gentle animals before the storm.
The mestizo gauchos were smiling now, talking rapidly among themselves
as they passed each other. The drive would be over and they could see
their families again. Yusef sat by the fire, gazing at the flame. In
such moments he often thought of home and his homeland, Ahmed, family
At first, when the word was spread through the small valley, there was
disbelief. The land they had farmed for generations no longer belonged
to the owner in Beirut but had been sold to the Jewish national Fund.
The holdings took in the entire valley, over 20,000 dunams. Over five
hundred families were living on the land, able to feed themselves and
earn a small surplus each year. Part of that surplus had to be paid to
the owner of the land Georgios Pakapolous who had acquired the land in
the nineteenth century during the time of the Ottoman Empire land
reform. Although there were often grumbling among the tenant farmers,
the arrangement allowed life to go on in their village. They paid little
attention to the news that land nearby had been purchased from absentee
landlords and taken over by the Jewish settlers. They became more
concerned when relatives among those evicted from their land came to the
small valley asking for help for their families. More mouths to feed and
families to have homes just made each a little poorer.
It was then that the villagers who farmed the valley came to the
Mukhtar, expressing their fears of what might happen to them. The
Mukhtar promised he would contact British officials in Nazareth and
relay their concerns. Within days of the meeting, officials from
Nazareth arrived in a motorcar to meet with the Mukhtar. When news
reached the farmers in the fields, they quickly assembled in the village
to hear what the visitors had to say about their land. The Mukhtar,
Yusef Batat, felt better that the officials were all Arabs who had lived
among them for years. Surely, they would understand the desperate
situation of the farmers and would offer some hope for staying on the
land and working for the new owners.
Wasif Khaleh was the spokesman for the visitors. He was accompanied by
two armed men. Abd Hamdan, one of the leaders among the farmers, watched
Khaleh begin to squirm as he spoke. The two men with him seemed to be
expecting trouble. Abd felt his heart sink before a word was spoken.
Khaleh read from a paper from a case he carried. “The land in this
valley has been purchased by the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem from
Georgios Pakapolous of Beirut. The size of the purchase is 20,000 dunams
and the transfer is complete. The Jewish National Fund is the new owner.
a representative of the fund asked me to inform all the tenant farmers
on this land that they must vacate the houses in the villages and that
they will no longer be able to farm the land. Although the Fund has the
right to demand that the tenants vacate immediately, they will allow 30
days to find other accommodations and work. The Fund will also provide
transportation for all your families within 100 kilometers of
The crowd that stood in front of Khaleh was silent—stunned by what
they heard; trying to sort out what was just said. Abd Hamdan spoke.
“We cannot leave the land. Our fathers and their fathers have farmed
this land. We want the new owners to come talk to us. Until that time,
we will stay in our village and farm our land.”
Khaleh looked at the men in front of him. Fear raced through him like an
electrical shock. What he did next would determine whether he left the
village alive or not. The two armed guards, nervously touching their
handguns could not protect him. The position he held in the property
records office paid well. His family lived well, better than most other
families he knew who did not work for the British. Yet there was a price
to be paid, a very high one. He was branded a pariah by all who knew
him. Looking around at the angry faces, he packed away his papers and
spoke quickly: “I will ask that someone from the Fund get in touch
with you” glancing quickly at Batat. He nodded toward his two
bodyguards, who followed him quickly to the motorcar. The stunned men of
the village dispersed and the square was soon empty. Left only the sound
the motorcar and that, too, was soon gone.
Weeks had passed. The farmers met often, and when they did, their words
were angry and driving their anger the fear of a future they could not
accept as real. Surely, Allah will not let them lose their land. The
British will not desert 500 families, over three thousand souls. The
Jews will allow them to stay on the land. Abd Hamdan was almost alone in
trying to lift the spirits of the others, of trying to rally them to
A lone rooster crowed defiantly as the sky began to lighten over the
hills east of the valley. The farmers in the village who had wakened
first heard the low rumble coming on the road from Haifa. Darkness
still covered the valley floor and all but the crowns of the hills. The
sound grew louder and now the entire village was out of their houses,
beginning to move closer together as the sound grew louder.
Now the outline of motorcars and lorries could be seen. The motorcars
were open and the men inside were visible. The lorries that followed
were full of men, packed together. The motor car and the lorries were
sand brown, the color of the British army! Abd Hamdan had seen such
convoys many times heading toward Haifa or west toward Tiberius. Perhaps
they will simply pass us by, he thought. But the fear and excitement
that filled him told they would not pass by.
Excerpted from "Your Land Is Our Land" by H Edward Schmidt. Copyright © 2017 by H Edward Schmidt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.