Laurence Oliphant.

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

. (page 20 of 35)
Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 20 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Here might be cultivated palms, cotton, indigo, sugar,
rice, sorghum, besides bananas, pine-apples, yams,
sweet potatoes, and other field and garden produce.
Rising a little higher, the country is adapted to
tobacco, maize, castor -oil, millet, flax, sesamum,
melons, gourds, cumin, coriander, anise, ochra, brin-
jals, pomegranates, oranges, figs, and so up to the
plains, where wheat, barley, beans and lentils of
various sorts, with olives and vines, would form the
staple products. Gilead especially is essentially a
country of wine and oil ; it is also admirably adapted
to silk - culture ; while among its forests, carob or


locust-bean, pistachio, jujube, almond, balsam, kali,
and other profitable trees grow wild in great profusion.
All the fruits of Southern Europe, such as apricots,
peaches, and plums, here grow to perfection ; apples,
pears, quinces, thrive well on the more extreme
elevation, upon which the fruits and vegetables of
England might be cultivated, while the quick-grow-
ing Eucalyptus could be planted with advantage on
the fertile but treeless plains. Not only does the
extraordinary variety of soil and climate thus com-
pressed into a small area offer exceptional advan-
tages from an agricultural point of view, but the
inclusion of the Dead Sea within its limits would
furnish a vast source of wealth, by the exploitation
of its chemical and mineral deposits. The supply
of chlorate of potassium, 200,000 tons of which are
annually consumed in England, is practically inex-
haustible ; ^ while petroleum, bitumen, and other lig-
nites can be procured in great quantities upon its
shores. There can be little doubt, in fact, that the
Dead Sea is a mine of unexplored wealth, which only
needs the application of capital and enterprise to
make it a most lucrative property.

The two great desiderata for the development of
the agricultural and mineral productions of the tract
of country which I propose for colonisation are,
abundance and cheapness of labour, and facilities of

1 A concession was once obtained by a French company for the
exploitation of the Dead Sea, but it has since lapsed.


transport to the sea-coast. In regard to the first,
labour might be obtained from four sources. First,
from the sedentary Arab tribes, who have hitherto
cultivated the land for the Beni Sukhr, and who
would readily undertake the same service for the
more favourable conditions which they would obtain
from emigrant farmers and capitalists ; secondly,
from the fellahin of Palestine to the east of the
Jordan, who would flock over in numbers to obtain
employment, where they would live under the pro-
tection of a just and lenient Government. As it is,
Abou Jabr, to whom I have already alluded, finds
no difficulty in obtaining as much fellahin labour as
he requires. Peasants could reach the colony in one,
two, or at most three days' journey from any part
of Palestine. Those who have had the most expe-
rience of this class of the population speak in the
highest terms of their capacity for agricultural pur-
poses. Mrs Finn, in a paper recently published by
the Palestine Exploration Fund, says : " The fellah
is capable of much good service, whether as a sol-
dier, a cultivator, or a builder : we found that they
made excellent agricultural labourers and builders ; "
and Captain Warren has spoken very highly of the
fellahin who worked under his staff of English
engineers in sinking shafts, driving galleries, and all
the other arduous work connected with his excava-
tions in Jerusalem. Lieut. Conder, R.E., late on
the Palestine Exploration service, in a very interest-


ing series of articles which he contributed not long
since to the ' Jewish Chronicle,' warmly advocates
the establishment of a Jewish colony in Palestine,
and the employment of fellahin labour. As his
duties did not lead him to the east of the Jordan, he
has not had an opportunity of contrasting the incon-
testably superior advantages which that region holds
out to the high lands proposed by him at the back
of Mount Carmel. I afterwards visited that neigh-
bourhood, and found that there was too large a
settled population, and too little waste land lying
together to be available for colonisation under a
special district administration. But even of West-
ern Palestine, where both soil and climate are far
inferior to Gilead and Moab, he says : " The hills
might be covered with vines and the valleys run
with oil, the plains might be yellow with corn and
the harbours full of ships, but for the greedy pasha
and unjust judge." The true principle of colonisa-
tion to be wrought out, he goes on to say, " is not
that of superseding native labour, but of employing
it under educated supervision. The peasantry are
an energetic and very stalwart race, with Immense
powers of endurance, seasoned to the climate, tem-
perate, good-natured, and docile. They are accus-
tomed to obey their chiefs and elders, and when
they see any prospect of fair play and just taxation,
they can be made to work very hard, as has been
proved in more than one Instance. They are a


people capable of great improvement, their faults are
those of an oppressed race, and their natural quick-
ness and power of adaptation would render it easy to
accustom them to European improved methods of
agriculture, if gradually introduced, and not forced
upon them." Mr Conder further remarks : " In deal-
ing with xJix^fellahin, Jewish settlers would have one
great advantage, they would probably learn the lan-
guage easily ; for the present dialect is very close to
the Aramaic or Chaldean, which we know was spoken
as late as the fourth century in Palestine, and which
is called in the Talmud the language of the ignorant."
Besides the fellahin agriculturist, it might be found
possible to combine charity with economy by the im-
portation of refugee labour. An excellent class of
emigrants could be obtained from among the destitute
exiles from Bulgaria and Roumelia, who have proved
comparatively skilled and thrifty farmers in their
former homes, and who would probably bring a
greater degree of intelligence and experience to bear
upon their operations than the peasant of Palestine.
Finally, it is probable that some of the more wealthy
Jewish proprietors would endeavour to encourage a
spirit of agricultural industry among the needy of
their own race, and that by degrees poor Hebrew
emigrants might be trained to labour upon the soil,
as they have already done in the agricultural colonies
in Russia, and as they do now in some part of Africa.
The proprietor might either pay his labourers by


allowing them a share in his crops a plan which is
extensively practised throughout Palestine and Syria
or he might pay them in money. The Rev. Mr
Neil, a Protestant clergyman, formerly resident in
Jerusalem, gives it as his experience, after some
years' observation, that farming even to the west of
the Jordan is an extremely profitable occupation; and
my own observation of some extensive farming oper-
ations in the plain of Esdraelon, to which I shall
allude later, fully confirms his opinion. He gives
the price of labour at from 5s. to 6s. a-week for men,
3s. a-week for women, and 2s. a-wepk for girls. The
farm- implements are of the rudest and most primi-
tive description, a light wooden plough, which one
man could carry easily, and which can be drawn by
a single ox, will turn over the rich soil sufficiently to
produce good crops. I often met ploughmen, each
with his plough on his shoulder, returning from their
day's work. There can be no doubt, however, that
improved farm - implements will result in heavier
crops, and that with regular cultivation, manuring
and top-dressing, which are now absolutely unknown,
would become necessary. Farm-stock generally are
cheap on the west of the Jordan. Horses cost from
S to ^10; mules from 12 to ^15; camels, ^20
to /30; asses, ^t^ to ^6; oxen from S to ^15 ;
full-grown sheep from los. to i6s., and goats still
less. To the east of the Jordan the prices rule even
lower. Stock-food consists principally of barley and


chopped straw, and four horses may be kept at an
annual cost of from ;^30 to ^^40. Besides chopped
straw, which forms the principal forage of cattle, oil-
cake made from the pressed sesame is abundant,
indeed, sesame oil is a large product of the country.

As there is never any rain between "the early"
and " the later rains," or between May and October,
there is no necessity for stacking the crops, and they
are thrashed and winnowed on the open floors, which
are a marked feature in the country. Hence farm-
buildings are not required, except for the purpose of
housing cattle and storing away the crops. In the
former case, the weather is so mild that open sheds
suffice; while for granaries, natural caves and excava-
tions are largely used. Hedging, ditching, draining,
&c., are unknown. Even on the unirrigated lands
the crops are sometimes very heavy ; but good land,
well irrigated, will bear as many as four crops a-year.
To the east of the Jordan the land is so much richer,
and the price, both of stock and food so much lower,
that we were informed that Abou Jabr, on the only
farm of any size which exists, was accumulating a
large fortune, notwithstanding the fact of his having
to pay a heavy black-mail to the Arabs, and to trans-
port his produce on the backs of camels a consider-
able distance to market.

In the event of the plains of Moab and land of
Gilead being taken up for settlement, the western
section of the colony would be within an easy


day's journey from Jerusalem, from which city in the
early stages of its development supplies and neces-
saries could be drawn ; but the true outlet for its
produce would be the port of Haifa, situated under
Mount Carmel. From here a railway might be
constructed to Tiberias, with a branch to Damascus,
as I already proposed, while the line to the colony
would then follow the valley of the Jordan to the
northern shore of the Dead Sea. The distance
from the port of Haifa to the northern limit of the
colony at the mouth of the Jabbok, by way of Beisan,
would be about sixty miles, and by way of Tiberias,
twelve or fourteen miles more. Both routes are
entirely free from any engineering difficulties, the
line following an almost imperceptible incline the
whole way. It would then pass for twenty-five miles
through the lands of the colony and the plain of
the Seisaban to the north-east angle of the Dead
Sea. The ascent from here to the highlands of
Moab would be a serious operation, and would pro-
bably not be undertaken until such an extension was
justified by the prosperity of the colony ; but in
the meantime the produce could be brought down in
less than a day from almost any part of the highland
tract proposed for settlement to the terminus of the
railway. It might also be deemed desirable, in the
event of the Jaffa and Jerusalem railroad not being
made by the French company, who obtained a con-
cession for the purpose, to have a short branch or


tramway by way of Jericho to Jerusalem, this would
put the colony in close and direct communication with
Jerusalem, and bring the latter city to within five or
six hours' distance of the port of Haifa by rail.

The railway system, of which this line would be
the nucleus, might finally be extended, either by
skirting the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, or
ascending to the plateau of Moab, as might on ex-
amination be deemed most desirable, to Akaba on
the Red Sea. Captain Burton, who is intimately
acquainted with the gulf and port of Akaba, has
already proposed it as the terminus of a railway.
There are said to be large coal and iron deposits
in the neighbourhood of Ma'an through which it
would pass, and the country there is capable of
development. The total length of the line from the
Mediterranean to the Red Sea would be about 260
miles, of which the first 150 would pass through a
rich populated country, and thus furnish an alter-
native route to India, far more economical and easy
of construction than the Euphrates Valley route, and
infinitely more likely to be remunerative from its local
traffic ; for Syria and Palestine would thus be placed
in direct railway communication with their own port
on the Red Sea, and the whole traffic of the East
would be open to them ; while it is probable that
overland travellers from India would prefer this
route to the one through Egypt with which they are
now so familiar. One of the principal sources of rev-
enue, however, would be obtained from Mecca pil-

ThtLathdLof GiLead..







Scale of British Mik j


C# -/"^





I SEA or^




v^ y


>V^ Blackwood & Sons.

Stoji/brds Geog^'^stah*


grims. Such a line, almost following the course of the
Hadj road from Damascus to Akaba, would complete-
ly supersede it ; and the thousands of travellers who
are now annually conveyed under Government escort
to and from Mecca often exceeding 20,000 in one
year, at a cost to the country of ^80,000 annually
could be transported for a tithe of that sum, so far as
the Government was concerned, by rail and steamer
from Akaba to Jeddah, while the expenses of the
journey by these means would prove far less to the
pilgrims than by road. The present cost of the
pilgrimage to a rich man travelling comfortably in a
takktarawan, averages about ^400. The hire of a
camel to Mecca and back from Damascus is ^15;
for a takhtara'wa7z, ;^ 1 50 ; and for a simple litter,
about ^0. The pilgrims' private expenses, there-
fore, come to a large item, excluding the enormous
charges incurred by the Government ; and the latter
could well afford to pay the railway a subsidy,
which, in addition to the passage - money charged
the pilgrims, would go far towards paying the entire
expenses of the proposed line. Besides which, as I
have already explained, the abolition of the Hadj on
its present system is an absolutely essential measure if
the Arab tribes to the east of the Jordan are ever to
be reduced to order, and life and property rendered
secure. It is needless to point out the advantages
in particular which would accrue to the Gileadite
colony, which would lie nearly midway between the
two seas, and would thus benefit from the commerce


of both. A line of almost equal importance would
remain to be constructed in order to complete the
system. This would be a branch from the south-
eastern point of the Dead Sea to Ismaila on the
Suez Canal, a distance of about 220 miles, thus
placing Syria and Egypt in direct railway commu-
nication, a consummation much to be desired in
the interest of both countries. The trade between
Egypt and Syria is constantly increasing, but is
crippled by the difficulty of transport from the in-
terior to the coast. Egypt is now one of the largest
and most profitable markets for Syrian produce,
sheep and horses, fruits fresh and dry, and even
cereals in years of scarcity find a ready sale there ;
while there can be no doubt that if travellers could
"book" from Cairo by way of Jerusalem to Da-
mascus, and pass from one of those highly populated
oriental centres to the other in fifteen or sixteen
hours, a large passenger as well as goods traffic
would be speedily developed, all of which would
pass through the whole length of the colony.

Such was the future which my sanguine imagina-
tion suggested might possibly be in store for the
fertile and interesting regions which we had tra-
versed. And on the eve of my departure from the
Land of Gilead, I felt assured, that though I had
failed to contemplate it from Mount Nebo, as I had
hoped, I had nevertheless gazed from the highest
peak in its mountains over a Land of Promise.







We had been detained at Salt longer than we in-
tended by the report that the Jordan was so swollen
by the recent rains that the ferry was not plying.
However, there seemed some uncertainty on the
point, so we decided to risk it under the guidance
of Elias Daoud, whom we preferred to a zaptieh,
and who had promised to meet us just outside the
town, which, for some reason best known to himself,
he seemed to shrink from entering. This was a
suspicious fact to which at the time we did not
attach the importance it deserved. We were so
disgusted with the escort of zaptiehs, that although
the route was reported to be somewhat unsafe, on
account of the Adwan and Ghawarini Arabs, and
there is a regular and pretty high charge made for
protection in the case of travellers journeying from



Jerusalem to Salt, we decided on taking our chance
without any protection at all ; and bidding adieu to
our kind host, Mr Halil, to whom we had been
indebted for several days' hospitality, started for
Jericho alone, and picked up Daoud about a mile
out of the town, where he was waiting for us with his
Arab wife. Considering that he was about to leave
her, possibly for ever, I thought his parting with her,
which consisted of a few hurried whispers, some-
what heartless. He probably consoled her with the
assurance that he would soon return ; but he imme-
diately afterwards announced to me his ardent desire
to be allowed to follow me to the isnd of the world,
and to act in the combined capacity of son and
servant for the rest of his life. There was some-
thing so extremely captivating and intelligent In
the manner of this scamp, and he was so full of
interesting Information of all sorts, that I confess
I shut my mind wilfully against the suspicions that
kept cropping up in it. He rattled on with descrip-
tions of his adventures In various parts of the world,
with Interesting anecdotes of Arab life in its wildest
form ; and, above all, professed that he was a far
safer guide than any zaptieh, because he was an
Intimate friend of the Adwan sheikh near whose
camp we should pass, and who was not a man to
be deterred from robbing a traveller by the presence
of a zaptieh. As the total amount of our worldly
wealth at this moment amounted to twelve shillings


and sixpence, and our luggage consisted of a single
change of raiment, together with cooking utensils,
bedding, &c., we felt tolerably secure against robbers,
unless they should capture us for a ransom an act
of daring upon which the Adwan would not venture,
as they are too dependent upon the lands which
they cultivate, and occupying country between Salt
and Jerusalem, are within easy reach of both. So
we jogged down the romantic gorge of the Shaib
in a very contented frame of mind, delighted with
the picturesqueness of the scenery, and the agree-
able change in the weather, which had now cleared.
The veofetation was fresh and luxuriant after the
rain, while the swollen torrent dashed down between
a thick fringe of oleanders to the valley of the
Jordan. We passed the tomb of a Moslem saint,
where goods and valuables deposited by travelling
Arabs are considered sacred. Here, according to
Elias Daoud, an Arab might leave the valuable
plunder which he had just obtained from the British
tourist, and go off himself into hiding. It was
secure against appropriation by his fellows, and at
the end of weeks or months he might return and
find it as he had left it. I have only the word of
our voluble guide for this story, who probably spoke
from his own experience.

Meantime the temperature was changing rapidly,
and when about mid-day we reached the Seisaban,
it was blazing hot. Here Elias looked anxiously


round for the Adwan camp, and I confess I did the
same. I think there was a shade of disappointment
on his face when he found they had moved. I since
have had reason to believe that his one object was
to find an Arab camp, whether Ghawarini or Adwan,
with whom to divide the Httle that we possessed.
Fortunately not a tent or human being was visible.
The whole country was irrigated by the waters of
the Shaib, and all round its debouchure into the plain
were waving fields of young grain, the soil show-
ing every sign of fertility. From here to the Dead
Sea it extends in a broad, level, unbroken tract
covered with a dense thicket, chiefly of tamarisk and
acacia, though other larger trees are scattered about.
The whole of this rich plain of Shittim is only wait-
ing for capital and labour to be converted into one
of the richest and most productive regions to be
found anywhere. We made our mid-day halt in a
small ravine by which what remained of the Shaib,
here called the Nimrim, was meandering to the
Jordan ; these were in fact the waters of Nimrim,
of which the prophet says, " For the waters of
Nimrim shall be desolate : for the hay is withered
away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing."
Doubtless, as contrasted with what these plains once
were, the prophet's description is even now accurate ;
but the amount of green we had been traversing,
proved how easily the rest of the plain might be
restored to its ancient fertility. On a low hill, a


little to the left, were the ruins of Beth-Nimrah,
originally a city of the Amorites, and one of the
frontier towns of Gad ; but we had no time to visit
them, and pushed on somewhat anxiously to the
Jordan, as in the event of a crossing being impos-
sible, we had nothing to look forward to but a night
in the open air on its banks, with a very short allow-
ance of food, and a considerable risk of predatory
nocturnal visitors.

Scrambling through the dense thicket which
fringes the river, we found it boiling down in a
turbid yellow flood, but were relieved to find that
our call brought forth a ready response from the
ferrymen on the other side, and that they showed no
hesitation in manning the ferry-boat. Notwithstand-
ing considerable difficulty in embarking and disem-
barking our loaded animals, one of whom fell back
into the river, we were soon all safe on the other
side, and made a most futile attempt to bathe in a
backwater of mud, for the torrent was too fierce to
admit of our venturing out into the stream. Then
we pressed on up the steep slippery slope on the
right bank, and rapidly traversing the intervening
plain, arrived a little before sunset at Jericho.

Here we once more came in contact with the
signs and evidences of civilisation. A party of
Americans, with the star-spangled banner floating
over their tents, were encamped above the Ain es
Sultan ; and some tourists, under the escort of a


swaggering young Arab sheikh from Jerusalem, had
pitched their tent in the back garden of the modest
hostelry in which we sought accommodation.

The dragoman of the American party was as
much amazed to see two unprotected travellers turn
up from the eastern side of the Jordan, independent
of all guidance by one of his class, as the young
sheikh was to observe the absence of any Arab
escort. It was a bad precedent for both. When
travellers take to exploring the wilds of Arabia with-
out either dragoman or Arab sheikhs to take care of
them, the trade of these gentlemen, who now usually
divide the black-mail and other plunder between them,
will be gone. So the young sheikh asked us under
whose protection we had come from Salt ; to which
we replied " Our own." As he and his family had
the monopoly of protecting and escorting travellers
between Jerusalem and Jericho, he further wished to
know under whose protection we intended to proceed
to the former city ; to which we also replied, " Our
own " on which we looked very fixedly at each
other for a few moments ; but nothing further appar-
ently occurring to him to say, he resigned himself to
the inevitable evidently with a gloomy foreboding
that the palmy days of his occupation were drawing
to a close.

Meantime Elias Daoud took advantage of the
opportunity to illustrate the insecurity of the situ-
ation, by surreptitiously appropriating a strap ; at

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 20 of 35)