Laurence Oliphant.

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

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least we had good reason to assume later that he
was the thief.

According to the lowest estimate, to have made
the journey which we had accomplished, with a
dragoman and tents, would have cost 2 a-day for
each traveller, while the amount of black-mail to be
paid to the Arabs would have been an indefinite
sum, depending on the honesty of the dragoman and
the apparent wealth of the caravan. But a party of
tourists, travelling in the ordinary way, might con-
sider themselves fortunate if they got off with "^0
of baksheesh, in addition to the daily charge per
head. Our united expenses, as far as Jerusalem
from Beyrout, amounted to a little over 1'], of
which thirty shillings had been expended upon our
zaptieh escorts for protection. In an ordinary sea-
son it would have been less, as horse-feed was nearly
double its usual price, owmg to the badness of the
crops in consequence of the drought.

The next morning Elias suggested that we should
deviate from the ordinary route and go to Jerusalem
by the Neby Musa, or tomb of Moses, as this was
the period of the great annual Moslem pilgrimage ;
and he assured us the sight was one well worth seeing.
So we rode along the base of the hills in a southerly
direction for an hour, and then, when we were about
four miles from the Dead Sea, we turned westwards,
scrambling up arid ravines till we reached the barren
hill upon which the sacred edifice is situated, which


is supposed to mark the last resting-place of the
great lawgiver. As, however, this was unquestion-
ably to the east of the Jordan, no interest derived
from any such association actually attached to it.
Indeed the tradition only dates back to the thir-
teenth century.

It was still too early on the first day of the pil-
grimage for pilgrims to have arrived from Jerusalem,
but the place was in a bustle of preparation : booths
were being erected, cafts and restaurants were being
furnished, and inside the great courtyard of the
building which contains the tomb, a crowd of
people were collected round a well, all actively em-
ployed. Into this courtyard Elias entered, beckoning
me to follow ; so we dismounted, but had scarcely
taken three steps inside when a shout of anger and
dismay was set up, accompanied by such hostile
gestures, that we beat a speedy retreat, and jumping
on our steeds rode away, for it was evident that our
profane entry had roused a feeling of indignation
which in another moment would have manifested
itself most unpleasantly. Whether this was a trap
into which Elias tried to lead us designedly, I know
not, and did not suspect it at the time. We, how-
ever, determined to push on for Jerusalem by our-
selves, as there was no difficulty about finding the
road, and left him to follow with the two baggage-
animals and muleteers Captain Phibbs's servant
lending him his pistol for their protection.


During the remainder of our ride we met quan-
tities of pilgrims journeying in every variety of orien-
tal fashion to the sacred shrine, on horseback and
in litters and takhtarawans ; sometimes a mother
with a family of young ones, ingeniously piled on the
back of a mule ; sometimes a whole female establish-
ment, riding astride, guarded by lanky eunuchs, or a
fat official sweltering in his uniform under the burn-
ing sun, and so at last we reached Bethany, and
came along the road leading past the Garden of
Gethsemane, now lined on both sides by women in
their snowy feridgees squatting on the terraces by
the wayside, and watching the train of pilgrims issu-
ing from the Jericho gate. For nearly a mile we rode
between these chattering bundles of white cotton,
and so made our entrance into the sacred city from
its most picturesque side, under circumstances of
unusual novelty and interest.

Three hours later the mules turned up ; but Elias
Daoud had stopped to drink at a fountain just be-
low Bethany, and from that moment, in spite of the
most active search being instituted for him, he and
the pistol he had borrowed for our protection disap-
peared from our gaze for ever. He was the most
plausible and fascinating of scoundrels, and possess-
ing, besides, the great qualification of being a Chris-
tian, may yet hope to rise, under the enlightened
protection of foreign Powers, to a position of afflu-
ence and dignity in the country.


I was SO unfortunate as to reach Jerusalem, and to
be compelled to remain in it during the greater part
of Holy Week. Had I been witnessing the sights
and ceremonials of a pagan religion they would have
been interesting, as illustrating the various phases of
superstition of which the human mind is capable.
No doubt, regarded as a purely psychological study,
this may be said to have been the case as applied
to Christianity, but the interest was of too painful a
nature to be gratified willingly. The crowds of pil-
grims and devotees calling themselves Christian,
who were only kept from flying at each other's
throats over the tomb of the Founder of their reli-
gion by a strong guard of Moslem soldiers, evidently
inspired the latter with a contempt and disgust which
one felt compelled to share. Nor can we wonder
that the followers of the Prophet who are called
upon to protect the degrading rites and superstitions
practised in this bitter and fanatic spirit, should
regard some forms of modern Christianity as little
better than paganism.

It is only due to the rival Christian sects to say
that they do not confine their intense hatred and
intolerance of each other to themselves. There is a
short street near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
through which the Christians allow no Jew to pass.
Nor does the Turkish Government care to raise a
diplomatic question, and excite the religious sus-
ceptibilities of the foreign Powers who are engaged


in reforming the country, by insisting that this street,
which is really a short cut and most useful thorough-
fare, should be equally open to all classes of its

It is a fact worthy of notice, that the city which
stands more in need of reform than any other in
Turkey after Constantinople itself, is the one in
which the Turkish Government is most powerless,
and foreign influence most predominant, and which
is called by a figure of speech " holy ! " and that
the people whom it would be found most difficult
to reform, so far as toleration and orderly conduct
are concerned, are the bigoted and fanatical Chris-
tians who have established themselves there as the
guardians and representatives of its sacred charac-
ter, or who frequent it for religious purposes.

The Jewish Feast of the Passover, which happened
to occur during Easter week, contrasted strangely
in its character of isolation, and almost of secrecy,
with the contention, hubbub, and masquerade of the
Christian festival. I felt it quite a relief on the
night of the Passover to find myself away from the
din of priests and worshippers, the guest of a humble
family in the Jewish quarter, sharing with them the
emblematic supper which celebrated their first deli-
verance. The only sound which broke the still-
ness of the night was the cadence of the chants
from the various neighbouring houses, in each of
which the feast was being held, which from time


to time swelled louder as the doors were opened
in remembrance of the flight. I found so strong
a belief prevailing that a second deliverance was
at hand, more or less miraculous in its character,
that I scarcely liked to intrude upon this occasion
with the extremely prosaic and mundane idea of a
colony which should be based rather upon commer-
cial than upon religious considerations. As, how-
ever, I should be sorry to be supposed to have the
presumption of wishing to interfere with the ful-
filment of prophecy, as interpreted either by Jews
or Christians ; and as my main object in proposing
the scheme has been in some degree to assist the
Turkish Government out of a political and finan-
cial difficulty, and at the same time to improve the
condition of a race who suffer much in various
countries, I was able to discuss the project with
various Jews in Palestine and Syria on its own
merits, and invariably found that they regarded it
with favour, provided that they were not themselves
intrusted with the entire administration of the affairs
of the colony in the first instance, as they were ut-
terly wanting in experience, and provided, further,
that the conditions of the purchase of land and its
settlement were not made too onerous, and that the
Turkish Government consented to grant a special
rdglement, which should secure the protection of
life and property. Those with whom I conversed
expressed no doubt that well-to-do and desirable


emigrants would be forthcoming in even too great

It is certainly not among the Jews of Jerusalem
that I should look for colonists, with the exception,
possibly, of a few among the Sephardim. The Ash-
kenazim established there are a useless mendicant
class, who are now a burden upon their co-religion-
ists, and would be equally so upon an enterprise,
where not merely industry, but a small amount of
capital would be essential.

On our way out of Jerusalem we visited the German
colony of The Temple, situated in what some sup-
pose to have been the valley of the Rephaim, through
which passed the boundary-line between Judah and
Benjamin. The branch of the colony located here
is under the charge of Dr Hoffman, upon whom we
called, and is the result of a divergence of opinion
upon an abstruse theological point, which it would
not be interesting to discuss here. The main
body of the colony, under a different leader, is at
Haifa, which I also subsequently visited ; and there
is a third section at Jaffa, which, I understand, owing
to unhealthiness and other causes, has been almost
abandoned. The colonies, both at Jerusalem and
Haifa, are, however, financially and commercially
prospering. The total number of souls, male and
female, of the two branches, Dr Hoffman stated to
be about 800 : amongst his own flock were eight
families of Mennonites. The houses were well built


Stone mansions, each surrounded by its garden, form-
ing a little street ; while a splendid stretch of arable
land, on which young spring crops were waving,
gave a prospect of a fine harvest. The colonists
have scarcely any trouble in their dealings with the
Government : they are assessed on the value of
their crops every year, and pay the money down.
It would seem, in fact, that the difficulties with
which they have had to contend, and which have so
far disturbed their harmony, have been of a purely
spiritual kind.

We turned off the direct road from Jerusalem to
Nablous in order to visit Jifna, the ancient Gophnah,
and pass the night there, partly because it was out of
the beaten track, and we had heard of a convent
at which we hoped to find good quarters, and partly
because in the course of our investigations we had
discovered that it was the native village of Elias
Daoud, and I was anxious to see the other members
of that gentleman's family ; moreover, there was just
a possibility of our finding him there on a visit.
We were cordially welcomed on our arrival by the
Catholic priest, who placed a room in the convent
at our disposal, and we were delighted with the
beauty of the spot we had thus accidentally lit upon.
It was remarkable for its fertility and the excellence
of the cultivation. The hillsides were carefully ter-
raced and thickly planted with vines and olives, and
the floor of the valley was a mass of gardens and

JIFNA. 319

waving crops. In spite of this seeming prosperity
we found the villagers in an extreme state of poverty
and destitution. The sheikh of the village turned
out to be the brother of Elias Daoud, and we went
and sat in his smoke -grimed tenement, on mats,
round a fire made on the floor, while he prepared
coffee, and gave us the history of his respectable
relative. Soon flocked in all " his sisters and his
cousins and his aunts ; " in fact the village seemed
composed of his relatives. They evidently took a
pride in the extreme disreputability of their kins-
man, who had been celebrated for his adventurous
exploits and his roving propensities since, as a boy,
he had deserted his native village ; and they laughed
heartily at our experiences. By degrees we won
their confidence, and they gave us many interesting
details in regard to their own unhappy condition.
They had been already taxed once this year, the tax-
collector having arrived with his zaptiehs and quar-
tered themselves, with fourteen horses, upon them for
twenty days ; and then, after they had with great
difficulty scraped together the amount of the tax
demanded, they could only get rid of them by a
present of 500 beskliks, equal to about ^20. Now a
horrid rumour had reached them that, for a second
time within the year, they were to be called upon for
another pecuniarycontribution to the Turkish treasury;
and they were in despair at the prospect, for, as it
was, they had scarcely enough left them to keep body


and soul together. They had planted wheat crops
all through their vineyards in the hope of getting as
much out of the land as possible ; but it was a heart-
breaking prospect, as the more money they made out
of the land, the more they would be compelled to
pay. The present method of collecting the taxes
opens the door to any amount of fraud and oppres-
sion. The dime or tithe of the village is put up to
auction. The purchaser is generally a large specu-
lator who buys the tithe of a number of villages, and
whose wealth makes him all-powerful with the local
Turkish authorities, who go shares with him in the
spoil. They furnish him with the necessary zaptiehs,
and he comes down with them, like a vulture on his
prey, on the unhappy peasantry, who, if they get off
with a contribution of thirty per cent, instead of the
ten which is due, esteem themselves fortunate. The
Government gets defrauded even out of its tithe ;
for when the auction takes place the local authorities
connive at the price for which it is sold, being much
below its real value ; the purchaser usually being a
man of too much influence and wealth to be opposed
by rival competitors.

The population of Jifna was composed entirely of
Catholic Christians, and they hoped, through the re-
presentations of the priest, to bring pressure to bear
at Jerusalem to avert the fate which seemed in store.
In this respect they were better off than the
Moslem peasantry of a neighbouring village, who


had been as heavily squeezed as they were, but who
had no protection of any sort. The priest told us
that the propensity of the Christian villages to fight
amongst themselves very much aggravated the other
misfortunes with which they had to contend. At the
moment of our visit there was a blood-feud between
Jifna and another Christian village, and last year five
men of the latter had been killed ; while only a few
days before our arrival 125 olive-trees had been de-
stroyed as an act of vengeance. Notwithstanding
all which there was something very attractive about
the fellahin, they were so cheerful under their
miseries, and such a fine, handsome, hospitably dis-
posed race. Both Moslems and Christians not un-
naturally entertain a most profound dislike of their
Turkish masters, considering how they are squeezed
for taxes ; and while the former are loyal to the
Sultan, as the head of their religion, they are utterly
devoid of any patriotic instinct, and would gladly
welcome a change of rule which should bring with
it greater security for life and property. The late
war, and wholesale conscription incidental to it, has
increased this feeling, while it has largely contri-
buted to the poverty and distress of the people. No
fewer than 150,000 of the Arab-speaking population
of Syria and Palestine have been withdrawn from
the active industry of the country, of which a very
small proportion have returned. The Christians,
among other privileges which they enjoy, have been



exempted from this burden. Mrs Finn, in her
interesting account of the fellahin, gives a most
graphic description of the terrors which the con-
scription excites among the Moslem peasantry, and
confirms my own observations in regard to the in-
ferior position occupied by them. On one occasion
she says : " Our Christian fellahah from Bethlehem
fully shared in the joy of the Jerusalem Christians
that their sons were ineligible. It was amusing to
hear her by turns chuckling over and sympathising
with the griefs of the Moslem mothers. Indeed,
generally speaking, she agreed with her townsfolk,
the Christian Bethlehemites, that the Moslems were
altogether an inferior people, and worse off than they,
who had ever in time of need their sure refuge in the
powerful protection of their convents, 'which may
God continue to build up.' "

It seems rather hard upon the Moslems, whether
they be Arab, or Turk, or Slav, that the sympathies
of the British public should be entirely withheld
from them on the ground that they do not bear
the name of Christian, even though they may be
of the same race. As a rule the Moslem peasant
is, in fact, far more worthy of their sympathy, for
he is more oppressed, more honest, more orderly,
and quite as industrious. It is true that there are
exceptions to the rule as, for instance, among the
Circassians and Kurds ; but they form a small pro-
portion of the Mohammedan population of the


empire. The religion of the former is of so vague
a nature, that they can scarcely be called Moslem ;
and for the latter, who are a savage race of moun-
taineers, I claim no sympathy at all. It is for the
poor down -trodden Moslem peasantry, devout ac-
cording to their lights, whether Arab or Turk, than
whom a race braver and more enduring in war, and
more patient and well-conducted in time of peace,
does not exist, that I would plead. In regard to
the sentiments which both Moslems and Christians
entertain towards their own Government there is
very little difference. I do not see, therefore, why
those in England who denounce the Turkish Gov-
ernment should make so great a distinction in their
feelings towards those who share with them their dis-
like of the executive authority. If the result of their
Christianity had been to make Christians in any
way morally superior to Moslems, I could readily
sympathise with the popular British sentiment upon
the subject.




From Jifna we rode to Nablous, the seat of govern-
ment of the Mutessariflik, the whole of which is
called in Turkish nomenclature " The Belka," though
that name, as I before remarked, properly applies to
the plains of Moab, and the region extending on the
east of the Jordan northwards to the Jabbok. It com-
prises, in fact, the exact district proposed for coloni-
sation, and it is most inconvenient that it should be
tacked on to a province intervening between the Mu-
tesseraflik of Acre and the government of Jerusalem,
on the west of the Jordan, to which it is not contiguous.
The consequence is, that the Caimakam at Salt is so
far removed from his superior at Nablous that he is
enabled to avoid supervision ; while the Caimakam of
Kerak, who also, nominally, owns allegiance to the
governor at Nablous, was until lately practically inde-
pendent. At Nablous we were most hospitably enter-


tained by Mr Elkary, a missionary, and shortly after
our arrival called on the Mutessarif, who received us
with the greatest civility and ceremony. In fact he
had somehow conceived the impression that we were
persons of " distinction," travelling incognito an ex-
tremely inconvenient idea to get abroad if one de-
sires to travel economically, and really see something
of the country, for it involves increased expenditure,
and entails an amount of notoriety which is apt to
produce a certain reticence among the timid poorer
classes, while the authorities make it their business
to throw as much dust as possible in one's eyes.
Our entertainer, though apparently a man of some
intelligence, evidently did not know as much about
the part of the country we had just been exploring
as we did ourselves, and we found that very little
valuable information was to be obtained from him,
though he was anxious to impress upon us the great
change which his administration had produced, by
reason of his improved management of the Arab
tribes, and the greater security which existed in con-
sequence a fact which we were ready to admit, for
our own experience to some extent confirmed it;
but until the country to the east of the Jordan is
made totally independent of that of the west, and
put under a separate administration, no really per-
manent improvement can be introduced there. The
Mutessarif insisted upon our being escorted by
two zaptiehs on our next day's journey, though we


pleaded hard to be excused the honour, as the road
was perfectly safe; but he seemed to consider it
essential to our dignity : and after he had compelled
us to accept a couple of antique rings which had
been found at Kerak, we bade this amiable func-
tionary a cordial adieu.

We found a very strong impression prevailing at
Nablous, as well as in other parts of Syria and Pales-
tine, that the occupation of the country by the Eng-
lish was imminent ; and an amusing illustration of the
readiness of the people to accept such an event was
afforded during our stay there, for we were excitedly
informed that the first detachment of the English
army had just arrived, and in proof of the truth of
the assertion we were assured that two officers were
already quartered in a French convent, while the
men were being billeted in the town. We, as mys-
terious persons of " distinction," were evidently con-
nected with the event ; indeed there seemed a suspi-
cion of our having a somewhat regal character. We
went in search of the " troops," and found a large
party of exceedingly jolly tars on three days' leave
from H.M.S. Rapid, then lying at Haifa, under
charge of an officer. The towns-people, who were
evidently looking forward to a golden harvest, con-
sequent on a change of masters, seemed quite disap-
pointed when we explained the mistake.

One of the great industries of Nablous is the
manufacture of soap, the alkali being brought from

JENIN. 327

the eastern Belka, and largely from the neighbour-
hood of Jajlis, where we had seen the pollarded
trees. There is also an unusual cultivation of
cactus, or prickly-pear, on the hills which over-
hang the town ; and it occurred to me that in a
country so eminently favourable to its growth as
Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan, it might be
possible to introduce the cochineal as a profitable

It was a hot seven hours' ride through the barren
mountains of Samaria to Jenin. We sent back our
zaptiehs shortly after we got outside of the town of
Nablous ; but this did not prevent the news of our
grandeur having preceded us, and we seemed to in-
crease in importance as we proceeded, for we found
a guard of honour waiting for us outside the village
to escort us to the quarters at the Medjliss which
had been provided for us, and where we found the
village notables assembled. The Caimakam him-
self was absent with 100 soldiers on a raid against
the Beni Sukhrs at Beisan, the ancient Bethshan
or Scythopolis, distant about thirteen miles. These
Arabs, who seemed to have returned to the country
since the Caimakam of Ajlun s raid, had come down
to avail themselves of the growing crops of the pea-
santry, and to levy contributions. We regretted we
had not arrived the day before, so as to have accom-
panied him ; but as we received intelligence that he
had taken twelve prisoners without resistance, and


that the affair was over, we did not think it worth
while to go out of our way to join him. We had
looked down on the plains of Beisan from Gadara,
and did not therefore require to see the country
again. It is a magnificently fertile, but at present,

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 21 of 35)