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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Poisoned Coffee.

Some years before Mahmud Ali had assumed the government, and the Arabs had the ability and power to tyrannize over the Jews, a very rich Jew of Constantinople emigrated hither. The Mahomedans ardently desired to find some pretext against this rich man, in order to extort money from him, according to their fashion. One day a Mahomedan, accompanied by a Bedouin, leading two camels loaded with charcoal, entered the courtyard of the Jew, and said that, as no doubt he was in want of coal, he would spare him the trouble to go to market for it, and brought therefore to his house two heavily loaded camels with this necessary article. But the Jew, fearing some evil, made some excuses—was very grateful for the kindness of the other, yet averred that he could not make any use of it, as he was well supplied already. But all subterfuges were in vain, and the Mahomedan forced him fairly to take the coal; and when the other asked after the price, he answered, “Never mind, give what you think the article is worth. Yet, as thou camest but lately in our holy city, it is no more than becoming that thou shouldst invite us, as faithful fellow­citizens, into thy house, and entertain us with pipes and coffee,* until the camels be unloaded by the servants.” “Let it be so,” answered the rich man; and, opening the door of his saloon, he told them to enter. Coffee and pipes were brought in; they drank and smoked, spoke of indifferent things, when suddenly the Bedouin sunk down as dead, and gave no signs of animation. The Mahomedan jumped up from his seat in a great rage, and addressed the Jew with a loud voice—“Murderer! what hast thou done ? Thy coffee is poisoned! Shall we tolerate the Jews among us, that they may lay plots against our lives? This murder shall be washed out by the blood of all the Jews.” The other protested his innocence, trembling, with tears in his eyes, saying, “Have I not drunk myself of this coffee? How, then, can it be poisoned?” “Then must the Bedouin’s cup have contained poison,” was the furious reply of the other. The Jew adduced all sorts of proofs of his entire innocence. At length the Mahomedan was moved, and said, “My friend, I indeed pity thee and all the Jews of the city; but I can think of only one remedy by which thou and thy people can be saved. Have thy court-yard immediately locked up, so that no one from without will be able to enter. I will employ all possible means to suppress this affair and keep it a profound secret; and this evening I will send thee two confidential persons, who shall fetch away the corpse and bury it in all secrecy; and in this way thou and thy brothers will be saved. But to effect this a large sum of money is necessary, which I am sure thou wilt readily and willingly furnish on the spot.” The trembling Jew esteemed himself happy that the matter could be settled with money, and gave immediately the sum which the Mahomedan had demanded, large as it was, with great willingness and with the utmost unconcern. The other went away, and the corpse was left lying in the saloon. After sunset two Bedouins arrived with a large sack, in which they thrust the corpse, took it on their shoulders in profound silence, and walked away greatly terrified. But scarcely were they a few steps distant from the house of the rich man, when the dead Arab jumped out of the sack; and the Jew now learned for the first time that the whole affair was a gross deception, contrived merely to extort from him the large sum he paid for his ransom.

* The oriental custom of entertaining strangers.

Jews and Muslims in Palestine