I shall not dwell on the physical sufferings we underwent while working on this road, for the reason that the conditions I have described were prevalent over the whole country; and later, when I had the opportunity to visit some construction camps in Samaria and Judaea found that in comparison our lot had been a happy one. While we were breaking stones and trundling squeaking wheelbarrows, however, the most disquieting rumors began to drift in to us from our home villages. Plundering had been going on in the name of “requisitioning”; the country was full of soldiery whose capacity for mischief-making was well known to us, and it was torture to think of what might be happening in our peaceful homes where so few men had been left for protection. All the barbed-wire fences, we heard, had been torn up and sent north for the construction of barricades. In a wild land like Palestine, where the native has no respect for property, where fields and crops are always at the mercy of marauders, the barbed-wire fence has been a tremendous factor for civilization, and with these gone the Arabs were once more free to sweep across the country unhindered, stealing and destroying.
The situation grew more and more unbearable. One day a little Christian soldier—a Nazarene—disappeared from the ranks. We never saw him again, but we learned that his sister, a very young girl, had been forcibly taken by a Turkish officer of the Nazareth garrison. In Palestine, the dishonor of a girl can be redeemed by blood alone. The young soldier had hunted for his sister, found her in the barracks, and shot her; he then surrendered himself to the military authorities, who undoubtedly put him to death. He had not dared to kill the real criminal,—the officer,—for he knew that this would not only bring death to his family, but would call down terrible suffering on all the Christians of Nazareth.
[ILLUSTRATION: NAZARETH, FROM THE NORTHEAST]
When I learned of this tragedy, I determined to get out of the army and return to my village at all costs. Nine Turkish officers out of ten can be bought, and I had reason to know that the officer in command at Saffed was not that tenth man. Now, according to the law of the country, a man has the right to purchase exemption from military service for a sum equivalent to two hundred dollars. My case was different, for I was already enrolled; but everything is possible in Turkey. I set to work, and in less than two weeks I had bought half a dozen officers, ranging from corporal to captain, and had obtained consent of the higher authorities to my departure, provided I could get a physician’s certificate declaring me unfit for service.