Laurence Oliphant.

The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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children are trained and educated in agricultural pur-
suits, which cannot be considered altogether a sue-



XXVI INTRODUCTION.

cess. This is partly owing to the extremely unfor-
tunate choice of the land, which is close to the great
sand-dunes which bound the shores of Palestine, and
which, advancing, it is said, a yard a -year, have
already partially invaded the property; and partly
owing to the absence of any protection against the
extortions of the Turkish Government and the hos-
tility of the native population, objections which
would not arise in a country where there were no
settled agricultural inhabitants to compete with, and
under conditions especially adapted to provide against
undue interference on the part of the Government,
and which should insure the necessary protection.
It is not, however, upon Jewish labour that Hebrew
capitalists emigrating to a colony in Palestine would
need to rely ; and I have shown, in my description
of the tract which I propose for colonisation, from
whence their labour could be drawn.

At the same time, were any further evidence re-
quired that the Jews consider themselves qualified
as agriculturists, that they are eager to emigrate in
that capacity from the countries in which they are
now oppressed and persecuted, and that the land
upon which their longing eyes are fixed as their
future home is Palestine, it is to be found in the
account contained in the following letter from the
president and members of a society lately formed in
Roumania dated Bucharest, 20th August 1880, ac-
cording to our calendar to the 'Jewish Chronicle' :



INTRODUCTION. XXVU

To the Editor of the ' Jewish Chronicle!

Sir, We have long heard that you are always ready to
devote your valued columns to anything involving the wel-
fare and prosperity of your brethren, and that your great
object is to promote their interests. We therefore entreat
that you will grant a hearing to us who seek your assistance.

The troubles which the Jews of Roumania are compelled
to suffer are well known to you. It is a land whose princes
are like the wolves of the forest, in their endeavour to anni-
hilate the children of Israel. With fearful zeal they seek
to persecute us ; one day they pursue us under the name of
religious enthusiasm, and on the morrow they abandon the
cry which is so disgraceful to them. But then they conceal
their hatred under the name of economy, alleging that the
state of trade and mercantile prospects of the country
compel them to act oppressively to the Jews who absorb
the substance of the Roumanians, and many other such
excuses. Thus are we constantly and severely attacked,
and our powers of endurance are exhausted. We have
therefore resolved, after mature deliberation, to leave the
country. With this view we have formed ourselves into a
Society for the Colonisation of the Holy Land, consisting
of a hundred families. Every one of the members is ex-
perienced in the work of cultivating the soil, and it is our
intention to journey to Palestine to " till the ground and to
guard it." The members will subscribe 400 francs each,
and the sum of 40,000 francs thus subscribed, it is our wish
to send to the Board of Deputies in London, one of whose
objects is to found a Memorial in honour of Sir Moses
Montefiore. We purpose that the Board shall purchase
land in Palestine and found a colony for us, and that the
expenses thus incurred by the Board shall be refunded by
us in ten years for we have no wish that the Board shall
give us charity, only that funds may be granted to us as a



XXVlil INTRODUCTION.

loan. The project would not necessitate a very large out-
lay, as it would now be an easy matter to obtain land from
the Turkish Government on a ten years' agreement, and it
would suffice if 20,000 or 30,000 francs were added to the
40,000, which we would send as a first instalment. With
God's blessing we should be able to pay off this debt entirely.
Until this is done, the ground and everything which shall
be provided for the colony, is to be under the name of the
Board as security.

There seems to us to be another advantage to recommend
our scheme to the minds of our brethren. It would offer
to the inhabitants of the Holy Land opportunities of learn-
ing agriculture through our means, so that they might
escape the sad charge of eating the bread of idleness. We
intend sending concurrently with this a letter to the heads
of the Board of Deputies, and we therefore beg of you to
use your powerful influence on our behalf with our benev-
olent brethren. We trust that the valuable aid of your
journal will be effective in bringing speedy assistance to
one hundred distressed families. If this object is attained,
the Sir Moses Montefiore Testimonial will be realised, for
which a large sum of money has already been collected.
The time has certainly arrived for something to be done.

With the earnest hope that you will inspire the hearts of
the lovers of Israel with a desire to help their brethren, we
beg, honoured sir, to subscribe ourselves,

Abraham Weinfield, President.

HiRSCH Gralen, ^

NiSAN Aubewitch, L^

) Members.
Samuel Braunschwein, [

Abraham Schenberg, J

Society for the Colonisation of the Holy Land,
Bucharest, Ellul i-^h, 5640.



INTRODUCTION. XXIX

The correspondence to which this appeal from
Bucharest gave rise will be found in the Appendix/
and I trust it may result in action being taken in the
matter. That the Jews in England share the senti-
ments of their Roumanian co-religionists, may be
gathered from the following paragraph extracted
from their leading organ in this country, alluding
to the late change of Government and its bear-
ing upon the scheme which I presented at the
Porte :

" It is to be hoped that the Liberal leaders may see
fit to give, if it be only unofficially, some kind of counte-
nance, as did the Conservative authorities, to Mr Laurence
Oliphant's excellent scheme for the peaceful and non-politi-
cal colonisation of a portion of Palestine by our people.
Such sanction would, more than anything else, show that
this scheme is wholly of a non-political character a guar-
antee greatly needed by the timorous Ottoman rulers, who
see the shadow of politics in all regenerative plans. The
Liberal party may count on the assistance of the Jews in
all serious efforts towards reforming matters in the East.
We have too much at stake to be indifferent in the matter,
and too large a proportion of brethren in deep suffering
from the present condition of affairs to remain supine. The
people of England who include the Jews of England
cry out for reform in the East in the name of our common
humanity."^

It was indeed my hope that, by enabling the Porte
to take the initiative in this project of internal re-
form, it would be deprived of any political aspect, as
* Appendix II. 2 'Jewish Chronicle,' 9th April 1880.



XXX INTRODUCTION.

suggested by English interests exclusively ; for it is
beyond a question that whatever conduces towards
the maintenance of the integrity of the Ottoman
empire in Asia is not only in the interests of Eng-
land, but of the peace of Europe. If, owing to the
refusal of the Sultan to entertain it, I now allude to
its political bearings, it is not because I desire to
impair that integrity, but because, while it should
undoubtedly be the policy of England to do -all in
her power to support the Sultan in any attempts
which he may make to reform the administration
of his Government, and in his own interest to ex-
ercise all legitimate pressure upon his Majesty in
that direction, we cannot be blind to the fact that
the opposition to reform in certain quarters is so de-
termined as to render the task almost hopeless, and
that every day increases the danger of the premature
dissolution of the empire. It is most unfortunate
that the efforts which England is making to avert
any such catastrophe should be misconstrued at Con-
stantinople into a desire to obtain possession of Asia
Minor, a misconception which has acquired so firm
a hold on some official minds, that well-meant en-
deavours to consolidate and strengthen the Turkish
empire were met with suspicion and opposition, until
at last the catastrophe has become imminent, which
it was the interest of England, no less than of Tur-
key, to avert. If, immediately after the Treaty of
Berlin, the Porte had frankly acted upon the advice of



INTRODUCTION. XXXi

England, and relied upon the honesty of her desire
to preserve Asia Minor to the Sultan, instead of fos-
tering the suspicion that she wished to conquer it for
herself, I believe that a reform which should have
begun at the centre, and extended to the extrem-
ities of the empire, might have been successfully
carried out. Unfortunately it is now too late, the
patience of England is exhausted, new political com-
binations have been formed, and it behoves us to
anticipate the complications which may arise out of
the altered relations of England and Turkey. Po-
litical events in the East have so shaped themselves,
that Palestine, and especially the provinces to the
east of the Jordan, owing to their geographical posi-
tion, have now become the pivot upon which of
necessity they must ultimately turn. Situated be-
tween the Holy Places at Jerusalem and the Asiatic
frontier of Russia, between the Mediterranean and
the Red Sea, between Syria and Egypt, their strat-
egic value and political importance must be apparent
at a glance ; and the day is probably not far distant
when it may be found that the most important inter-
ests of the British empire may be imperilled by the
neglect to provide in time for the contingencies which
are now looming in the immediate future. I have
adverted to these at some length in the last chapter,
as well as to the policy which the result of a year's
negotiation at Constantinople leads me to believe
would be most likely to secure the desired results.



XXXll INTRODUCTION.

Nor can we, in connection with this project and
the probable future of Palestine, ignore the great
change which has taken place during the last fifty
years in the relations which the Jewish race occupy
towards the Governments of Europe. As a conse-
quence of the more enlightened policy which has
been pursued towards them of later years, they
have been enabled to increase in wealth and num-
bers, while their social and political status has been
so improved as to have made it possible for them
to acquire an almost commanding influence in the
finance and press of many civilised countries. It is
evident, therefore, that a colony founded by their
enterprise, under the auspices of the Sultan, would
enjoy a protection of a very special character, and
that the influence of the race upon the several Gov-
ernments under which they possess civil rights would
be exercised in its favour.

It is somewhat unfortunate that so important a
political and strategical question as the future of
Palestine should be inseparably connected in the
public mind with a favourite religious theory. The
restoration of the Jews to Palestine has been so often
urged upon sentimental or Scriptural grounds, that
now, when it may possibly become the practical and
common-sense solution of a great future difflculty,
a prejudice against it exists in the minds of those
who have always regarded it as a theological chi-
mera, which it is not easy to remove. The mere



INTRODUCTION. XXXlll

accident of a measure involving most important in-
ternational consequences, having been advocated by
a large section of the Christian community, from a
purely Biblical point of view, does not necessarily
impair its political value. On the contrary, its po-
litical value once estimated on its own merits and
admitted, the fact that it will carry with it the sym-
pathy and support of those who are not usually par-
ticularly well versed in foreign politics is decidedly
in its favour. I would avail myself of this oppor-
tunity of observing that, so far as my own efforts
are concerned, they are based upon considerations
which have no connection whatever with any popular
religious theory upon the subject.

In the event scarcely, I fear, to be expected
of wiser counsels prevailing at the Porte, and of the
introduction at Constantinople of institutions which
should impart some stability and homogeneity to
the Cabinet, and increase the responsibility of Min-
isters to the country, by the creation of a popularly
elected chamber, however small, it is possible that
the dangers which I have indicated might be averted,
and that a new and better system of government,
under which existing abuses would be remedied,
might be inaugurated. In that case the extension
of an experiment of colonisation under which all
colonists should become, ipso facto, Ottoman subjects
throughout Palestine, would be a source of strength
to the Sultan's empire. Indeed, if the system upon



XXXIV INTRODUCTION.

which the colony was administered proved success-
ful, it might serve as a model for the rest of Syria
and Asia Minor, and might prove a means of illus-
trating the inutility of the capitulations which, prac-
tically though indirectly enabling a discrimination
to be made, as they do now, between two classes of
his Majesty's subjects, create a serious obstacle to
reform.

There would then be no reason why Christians
should under some circumstances enjoy protection
and privileges denied to Moslems, and under others
be the victims of special persecution ; for the same
treatment might be applied to them which secured
the good government of the colonists without con-
sular interference. So long as the rival Christian
communities of which there are fourteen in Syria
alone, seven Catholic and seven anti-Catholic have
power to invoke the foreign protection that suits
them, whenever they feel, either justly or unjustly,
aggrieved with the Government or with one another,
so long will every vilayet be a hotbed of diplomatic
and religious intrigue, and the authority of the cen-
tral Government be undermined, until at last the fate
which has overtaken European Turkey, in conse-
quence of foreign interference and agitation in its
internal affairs, will be precipitated upon the Asiatic
provinces of the empire.

Before deciding definitely whether the scheme was
a practicable one or not, I found that it would be



INTRODUCTION. XXXV

necessary to visit the country, with the view of select-
ing the district and examining the local conditions ;
and even then, provided that a region adapted for
the purpose could be found, everything would de-
pend upon the disposition manifested by the Porte
to entertain the idea. Prior to starting, however, it
seemed to be my first duty to lay the matter before
the Government, with the view of obtaining their
support and approval, and I therefore communicated
to the then Prime Minister and Lord Salisbury the
outline of the project. From both Ministers I re-
ceived the kindest encouragement and assurances of
support, so far as it was possible to afford it with-
out officially committing the Government. And I
was instructed to obtain, if possible, the unofficial
approval of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the scheme. I therefore proceeded to Paris, and
submitted it to M. Waddington, who was suffi-
ciently favourably impressed with the idea to give
me a circular letter to the French ambassador at
Constantinople and other diplomatic and consular
representatives in Turkey. I was also similarly
provided with letters of recommendation from our
own Foreign Office.

I would venture to express most respectfully
my gratitude and thanks to his Royal Highness
the Prince of Wales, and to their Royal High-
nesses the Prince and Princess Christian of Schles-
wig-Holstein, for the warm interest and cordial



XXXVl INTRODUCTION.

sympathy with which they regarded the project,
and which encouraged me to prosecute it. I would
also take this opportunity of tendering my hearty
acknowledgments to my numerous friends, Chris-
tian and Jewish, who were so kind as to afford
me their assistance and advice. It is, however,
only since my return to England that I have be-
come aware how deep and widespread is the inter-
est which has been felt in the successful issue of
an undertaking which involves such important phil-
anthropic and political results. If the preliminary
stage of negotiation with the Turkish Government
was not crowned with the success which I had anti-
cipated, it must be remembered that I attempted it
alone and comparatively unaided. So far from being
discouraged, my late experience more than ever con-
vinces me that the scheme is in all respects practi-
cable, and that it is only necessary for the public to
take it up, supported by the Government, in order to
overcome the resistance which I encountered at Con-
stantinople, and which was due to an altogether ex-
ceptional combination of adverse influences.
\ Under any circumstances, it is impossible that the
region which comprises within its limits the luxuriant
pasture-lands of Jaulan, the magnificent forest-clad
mountains of Gilead, the rich arable plains of Moab,
and the fervid subtropical valley of the Jordan, can
remain much longer neglected. Whether we regard
it from an archaeological, a commercial, or a political



INTRODUCTION. XXXVU

point of view, this territory possesses an interest and
importance unrivalled by any tract of country of sim-
ilar extent in Asiatic Turkey. It remains for Eng-
land to decide whether she will undertake the task
of exploring its ruined cities, of developing its vast
agricultural resources, by means of the repatriation
of that race which first entered into its possession
three thousand years ago, and of securing the great
political advantages which must accrue from such a
policy. I have considered that it would be most
judicious for the present to refrain from publishing
the project of the charter of the company which I
submitted to the Turkish Government, after it had
been at their request carefully framed and elabor-
ated by their own law advisers in such a manner as
should, in my opinion, offer the most effectual guar-
antees for the just and satisfactory administration
of the colony, and the interests of the shareholders,
without in any way infringing upon the sovereign
rights of the Sultan ; but I hope and believe that it
may still form the basis upon which a company may
be founded. If the result of my efforts to awaken
that interest in the subject which it deserves, and
the appeal which this book contains, meet with the
response which I anticipate, I shall be happy to co-
operate in any plan which may seem best calculated
to carry it out.

About the middle of February last year I left
England for Syria.



THE



LAND OF GILEAD.



CHAPTER I.

ARRIVAL AT BEYROUT PREPARATIONS FOR THE START SIDON
NABATIYEH THE METAWALIES THEIR RELIGIOUS OBSERV-
ANCES THE MELCHITES THE CASTLE OF BELFORT THE

SCENERY OF THE LITANY THE MERJ AYUN VIEW OF THE

HULEH CAPABILITIES OF THE PLAIN OF THE HULEH RAIL-
WAY FROM HAIFA TO DAMASCUS TEL EL KADI BANIAS.

Almost immediately on arriving at Beyrout I met
my friend and future fellow-traveller, Captain Owen
Phibbs, who had resided for four years in the
country, through which he had travelled exten-
sively. He was thoroughly conversant with the
language, and with the manners and habits of the
natives, and his great experience subsequently
proved invaluable. His love of oriental research,
habit of close observation, and familiarity with the
country generally, rendered him a most agreeable
and instructive companion ; and I was delighted

A



,''z\^:{^'/'}': : ,;THE land of gilead.

to find that he was free to undertake an expe-
dition into a region which was new to him. He
entered, moreover, warmly into the project which I
had at heart, and which he considered to be both
practicable and feasible ; and his opinion inclined
towards the country to the east of the Jordan
as the part of Palestine where I should be most
likely to find such a tract of waste land as I de-
sired. We therefore decided, provided that it was
found to be practicable, to cross the Jordan at its
sources, and traverse the whole region formerly
occupied by the half-tribe of Manasseh, Gad, and
Reuben, and then, crossing over to Jerusalem,
return northwards through western Palestine. We
should thus have an opportunity of skirting the
Belad Beshara, a district in the extreme north of
western Palestine, comprised in ancient times within
the heritage of Asher and Naphtali, now chiefly
occupied by a Metawaly population, and which
might prove worth examination.

I met no one at Beyrout who was personally
acquainted with the Eastern country which we
desired to traverse ; and it was therefore not easy
to obtain information except from dragomans, who
could not be relied upon as to the present mood
of the Arabs who range over it, and the possi-
bility of traversing it in safety. The impression
prevailed that this could only be accomplished by
considerable payments in the shape of. black-mail



PREPARATIONS FOR THE START. 3

a tax which we did not feel by any means disposed
to incur. The best chance of avoiding it seemed
to be to travel in the humblest and most unosten-
tatious manner possible, to take scarcely any money
with us, to throw ourselves upon the hospitality of/
the natives, and to trust to the chapter of accidents
and our appearance of poverty to carry us through
safely. We therefore decided upon putting only a
few pounds in our pockets, taking no tents, and in-
stead of a dragoman, a domestic of Captain Phibbs's /
who turned out a perfect treasure as cook and
factotum and one mule and muleteer for our
united baggage, bedding, cooking utensils, and the
articles of food which we thought it wise to take in
case of necessity. These consisted of a few tins of
preserved meat, some Liebig's Extract, tea, coffee,
sugar, a ham, some cheese, cakes of chocolate, a
bottle of olives, dates, &c. We also took a bottle
of spirits of wine and a spirit - lamp, which we
found to be the greatest possible comfort : a cup of
hot tea, coming at the right moment, saves many
a headache, if one is at all susceptible to the sun.

H.M. Consul-General, Mr Eldridge, very kindly
supplied us with a circular letter addressed to
Turkish authorities and officials generally, which
insured us attention and civility whenever we came
across them, and proved of great service to us.

After the usual amount of haggling, the agree-
ment was at last signed for the price of the mule,



4 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

and a strong, active pony, for myself Captain
Phibbs's stable supplying the other two animals
and we started for Sidon in the early part of
March. At the end of our first day's journey
the muleteer pleaded so earnestly for an extra
baggage-animal and boy to assist him and bear
him company when we went too far ahead, that
we added to our cortege, and ended by presenting
a somewhat more wealthy and imposing appear-
ance than we originally intended.

We were hospitably entertained at Sidon by Mr
Abela, from whom we obtained a good deal of in-
teresting information, which all went to show that
there was very little to be expected from the Belad
Beshara, where the land was not sufficiently rich,
and the country too much occupied, to make it a
desirable field for colonisation. We therefore gave
up the idea of going as far south as Tibnin, the
capital of the district, and decided on making Na-
batiyeh the end of our first day's journey from
Sidon, and continuing from there in an easterly
direction.

Passing through productive gardens of orange,
bananas, apricots, and olives, which surround the
town, we debouched upon a fertile and extensive
plain, stretching from the sea-shore to the base of
the nearest range of hills, waving with young spring
crops, which rows of Metawaly women were busily
engaged in weeding; while the ruins of ancient



DEPARTURE FROM SIDON. 5

Sidon, which in former days extended for miles
from the walls of the present city, bore testimony
to the vastness of the population which the great
Phoenician mart had attracted to its neighbourhood.
Now, the fragments of columns which had once
supported temples and palaces were either used as
Moslem tombstones, as rollers for the flat house-
tops, or lie strewn over the fields or by the side of
the road to Tyre, which skirts the shore. We
turned off from this to the left in about an hour
after leaving Sidon, riding through fields of wheat
and beans to the base of the ridge, where the



Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 2 of 35)