Together with twenty of my comrades, I presented myself at the recruiting station at Acco (the St. Jean d’Acre of history). We had been given to understand that, once our names were registered, we should be allowed to return home to provide ourselves with money, suitable clothing, and food, as well as to bid our families good-bye. To our astonishment, however, we were marched off to the Han, or caravanserai, and locked into the great courtyard with hundreds of dirty Arabs. Hour after hour passed; darkness came, and finally we had to stretch ourselves on the ground and make the best of a bad situation. It was a night of horrors. Few of us had closed an eye when, at dawn, an officer appeared and ordered us out of the Han. From our total number about three hundred (including four young men from our village and myself) were picked out and told to make ready to start at once for Saffed, a town in the hills of northern Galilee near the Sea of Tiberias, where our garrison was to be located. No attention was paid to our requests that we be allowed to return to our homes for a final visit. That same morning we were on our way to Saffed—a motley, disgruntled crew.
It was a four days’ march—four days of heat and dust and physical suffering. The September sun smote us mercilessly as we straggled along the miserable native trail, full of gullies and loose stones. It would not have been so bad if we had been adequately shod or clothed; but soon we found ourselves envying the ragged Arabs as they trudged along barefoot, paying no heed to the jagged flints. (Shoes, to the Arab, are articles for ceremonious indoor use; when any serious walking is to be done, he takes them off, slings them over his shoulder, and trusts to the horny soles of his feet.)
To add to our troubles, the Turkish officers, with characteristic fatalism, had made no commissary provision for us whatever. Any food we ate had to be purchased by the roadside from our own funds, which were scant enough to start with. The Arabs were in a terrible plight. Most of them were penniless, and, as the pangs of hunger set in, they began pillaging right and left from the little farms by the wayside. From modest beginnings—poultry and vegetables—they progressed to larger game, unhindered by the officers. Houses were entered, women insulted; time and again I saw a stray horse, grazing by the roadside, seized by a crowd of grinning Arabs, who piled on the poor beast’s back until he was almost crushed to earth, and rode off triumphantly, while their comrades held back the weeping owner. The result of this sort of “requisitioning,” was that our band of recruits was followed by an increasing throng of farmers—imploring, threatening, trying by hook or by crook to win back the stolen goods. Little satisfaction did they get, although some of them went with us as far as Saffed.