from The House of Rajani

Alon Hilu

Translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg


12 August 1895, Hotel Kaminitz, Jaffa, twenty minutes before the hour of five in the afternoon:

I write these lines from the Land of Israel, Zion, on an oak-wood desk in the lobby of a hotel in the German Colony near Jaffa.  From the open door one can glimpse the dense green orchards of Jaffa.  Sea smells waft through the air.  A light breeze brings with it the chirping of happy crickets.  My mood, however, is turbid with the quarrel and squabble that broke out this evening between Her Ladyship and myself.  Perhaps these words that I am writing will bring peace and serenity to my heart.

The start of the day was lovelier and more beautiful than any other when our ship anchored off the Jaffa port in the early morning hours.  I was seized with a delirious joy.  Like all people of my generation gripped by idealism, I, too, have longed from the days of my adolescence to ascend to the Holy Land, to till the land and watch over it. Not long ago I completed my studies in the Faculty of Agronomy in Montpellier and I am knowledgeable about the fruits and grains of Palestine. Even Her Ladyship has forever longed to set foot on this corner of the earth.  From the dawn of her girlhood in Warsaw she was an enthusiastic member of the Hovevei Zion movement, active in promoting aliya to Israel and settling the land, our desirable piece of earth that pines for us as we pine for it.

We stood on the deck of the ship this morning and watched the pleasant buildings of Jaffa draw closer over the waves.  Exhilarated, I clenched Her Ladyship’s hand and moved to kiss her mouth, but she wriggled from my grasp.  I turned my face toward hers and lo, her expression was sour, angry.  Under interrogation, even she could not explain the cause of her wrath.  I pointed to the beautiful land of our dreams but she dropped her gaze and grimaced.  Her hands were cold as ice, in contrast to the great heat enveloping us.

Just then a number of quick-armed, black-skinned oarsmen rowed toward us from the port in flimsy boats, their language a cackling like African parakeets, their customs lacking even the most basic elements of culture. I asked the deckhands who these men were.

“Arabs,” they told me.

Until this very morning I had never in my life met an Arab. Only a rumor, slight and feeble, had ever reached me, that a handful of this nation, the descendants of Shem, could be found among the settlers of Canaan, and that these people sell their land to the colonists.  I was very eager to cast my eyes upon them.

From: The House of Rajani, reprinted with the kind permission of Harvill Secker (London, 2010), copyright Alon Hilu.




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