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CHAPTER VII: FIGHTING THE LOCUSTS
While I was traveling in the south, another menace to our people's welfare had appeared: the locusts. From the Soudan they came in tremendous hosts--black clouds of them that obscured the sun. It seemed as if Nature had joined in the conspiracy against us. These locusts were of the species known as the pilgrim, or wandering, locust; for forty years they had not come to Palestine, but now their visitation was like that of which the prophet Joel speaks in the Old Testament. They came full-grown, ripe for breeding; the ground was covered with the females digging in the soil and depositing their egg-packets, and we knew that when they hatched we should be overwhelmed, for there was not a foot of ground in which these eggs were not to be found.
The menace was so great that even the military authorities were obliged to take notice of it. They realized that if it were allowed to fulfill itself, there would be famine in the land, and the army would suffer with the rest. Djemal Pasha summoned my brother (the President of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Athlit) and intrusted him with the organization of a campaign against the insects. It was a hard enough task. The Arabs are lazy, and fatalistic besides; they cannot understand why men should attempt to fight the Djesh Allah ("God's Army"), as they call the locusts. In addition, my brother was seriously handicapped by lack of petroleum, galvanized iron, and other articles which could not be obtained because of the Allies' blockade.
In spite of these drawbacks, however, he attempted to work up a scientific campaign. Djemal Pasha put some thousands of Arab soldiers at his disposition, and these were set to work digging trenches into which the hatching locusts were driven and destroyed. This is the only means of coping with the situation: once the locusts get their wings, nothing can be done with them. It was a hopeless fight. Nothing short of the coöperation of every farmer in the country could have won the day; and while the people of the progressive Jewish villages struggled on to the end,--men, women, and children working in the fields until they were exhausted,--the Arab farmers sat by with folded hands. The threats of the military authorities only stirred them to half-hearted efforts. Finally, after two months of toil, the campaign was given up and the locusts broke in waves over the countryside, destroying everything. As the prophet Joel said, "The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.... The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness."
Not only was every green leaf devoured, but the very bark was peeled from the trees, which stood out white and lifeless, like skeletons. The fields were stripped to the ground, and the old men of our villages, who had given their lives to cultivating these gardens and vineyards, came out of the synagogues where they had been praying and wailing, and looked on the ruin with dimmed eyes. Nothing was spared. The insects, in their fierce hunger, tried to engulf everything in their way. I have seen Arab babies, left by their mothers in the shade of some tree, whose faces had been devoured by the oncoming swarms of locusts before their screams had been heard. I have seen the carcasses of animals hidden from sight by the undulating, rustling blanket of insects. And in the face of such a menace the Arabs remained inert. With their customary fatalism they accepted the locust plague as a necessary evil. They could not understand why we were so frantic to fight it. And as a matter of fact, they really got a good deal out of the locusts, for they loved to feast upon the female insects. They gathered piles of them and threw them upon burning charcoal, then, squatting around the fire, devoured the roasted insects with great gusto. I saw a fourteen-year-old boy eat as many as a hundred at a sitting.