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Friday, October 09, 2009

An early Arab attack on Petah Tikvah

I just came across a book called New Judea, published in 1919, discussing what Palestine was like at that time from a Jewish perspective. This episode, about Petah Tikva, was interesting:

ln the course of a conversation, the old agriculturist related many episodes connected with the early history of the colony, one of which impressed itself on my memory. "It was a short while after we came to occupy this land," he said, "before a permanent buildings was completed, and we were all squeezed together in one old Arab mud hovel called "hushot." The place was then wild, and we were busy cleaning away stones, grading the land, making roads, defining the boundaries of our colony and ploughing the hard soil."

"l was watching a field of wheat whose green crops had just made its appearance. One day while patrolling the wheat field, I noticed the Arab Sheikh, of the neighboring village, El Yehud, had turned his horses into our wheat. I chased the horses away and went over to the intruder and warned him not to do it again, as we would hold him personally responsible for all damages. The Sheikh glanced at me scornfully and turned away. A few weeks passed, the wheat field was already proudly waving in the air. l saw from a distance one early morning the Sheikh wrapped in a black "Abba" and a large "Kephiyah" on his head coming toward the colony. l gave a signal to my comrades. In a few minutes they were up and we assembled behind a cactus hedge to decide what steps to take with the treacherous intruder. After some discussion it was decided that we must once for all show the marauding neighbors that we do not fear them and that we are ready to repell and punish all attacks made on this colony. While reaching this decision we noticed the same Sheikh leaving the highway and turning his horse into the wheat. A few of us immediately jumped on our horses and chased after the intruder. He began to run and we followed him until we brought him to a stop. We brought him and his horse back to the village, where he was given a good thrashing, and we sent him off to his home warning him that if this happened again his punishment would be much more severe. He stared at us with an expression of vengeance and then spirited away among the hills. About a month passed and nothing was heard of the Sheikh. One morning we learned from one of our Arab laborers that we were to be attacked on a certain night of that week by the tribesmen of the Sheikh. Not knowing how many were coming, we despatched one of our men to the neighboring colonies for assistance. We did not notify the authorities in Jaffa, thinking it would be more effective and would make a better impression on the Arabs if we convinced them once for all that we did not fear them and that we could use firearms better than they. Pretending that it was a holy day, we dismissed all the Arab laborers for a few days so as to be sure that our enemies would not be informed of our plans, for we discovered that they were spying on us. On the afternoon preceding the night of the expected attack, a score of men and women, comrades, from Rishon L'Zion, Ekron and Katra, mounted on fine horses and armed with new guns at their backs, revolvers at their girdles and belts with cartridges around their waists, rushed on our villaee like a company of trained cavalry ready to close in on the enemy. They dismounted from the horses and sat down to consult with us about our plan of warfare.

"Towards evening each man was assigned to a strategic position. We knew that they were coming down the main road and that they were to use our field of wheat as the fighting ground. Some of us concealed ourselves near the entrance of the village, behind piles of stones, other in ditches and behind hills; while still others were encamped behind the village houses that were in process of erection, and on the roof of the hut we were occupying.

"The expected hour came. The vanguards, who were patrolling about the fields, having heard from a distance the trotting of horses and wild voices of people, signalled to us, They are coming! Be ready for action! As soon as the enemy entered the grounds of the village two shots were heard. We knew it was the signal for action. A volley of fire from our comrades of the lower side of the colony broke out. The marauders were quickly encircled by our men and they surrendered before we had a chance to fire a shot at them. They were completely taken by surprise. We made prisoners of about twenty Arab ringleaders, including the Sheikh, bound their hands and feet and took them the next day to Jaffa, where we gave them over to the authorities. The others did not need much warning. They were glad to be allowed to get away.

"Since that incident," continued my new friend, "we gained the respect of our neighbors, and we have no organized attacks, except now and then individual robberies that may happen anywhere.

Keep in mind that the area of Petah Tikva was legally purchased around 1883.