I have been reading From the Holy Mountain
, written in 1994 by William Dalrymple. He traces the steps of the sixth century monk, John Moschos across Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt and provides some fascinating anecdotes, Byzantine and contemporary. Dalrymple heard this story from his driver in Aleppo:
"In 1929 my father bought 60,000 acres of desert near Hassake on the Khabur River. The area was deserted except for Bedouin but the French offered land to anyone who would irrigate it and grow crops. After five years of hard work, my father finally had a very successful harvest and made a big profit: fifty gold pounds, more than enough to repay the loan for the land. But he had a problem: he didn't know how to get the gold from Hassake to Aleppo as the road was beset by brigands. He asked an Armenian driver with an old model T Ford to take him the next time he was going to Aleppo. The day came. He put the money under his girdle and set off with the Armenian.
Halfway along the road, in the early evening, in the middle of the desert, they saw a very old Bedu hitchhiking. My father wanted to pick him up but the Armenian said he never took strangers. They drove on but began to feel guilty about leaving the man in the desert so they turned around and got him. The Bedu was very grateful and sat smiling in the back.
Ten minutes later, the old man pulled out two revolvers and ordered them to stop the car. He told them to undress and to give him their money. As my father took off his trousers, fifty gold pounds fell out and rolled onto the ground.
The Bedu could hardly believe his eyes and ran after the coins. As he did so, my father kicked him in the face and the Armenian got him into an armlock while my father got the guns. The Bedu produced a knife with his other hand. My father punched him and the Armenian tried to strangle him. After a while the Bedu was overpowered but all three men were covered in blood.
"We can't leave him here," said the Armenian. "Tomorrow he'll be waiting for us to return and will have 40 more tribesmen with him. We must kill him." Before my father had time to answer, the man collapsed, stone dead.
"What did you do?" the Armenian asked.
"You killed him," said my father.
killed him!" replied the Armenian.
They argued and then drove on in silence, leaving the corpse on the road.
After 15 minutes they came to a French patrol. The officer ordered them to stop and asked what they were doing so late on the road. They were nervous and the officer was suspicious and ordered them to get out of the car. He then saw the blood on their clothes.
"It was his idea," said the Armenian. "He just killed a Bedu hitchhiker."
"No, no," said my father. "It was him!"
The Frenchman searched the car and found the Bedu's ID. "Was this the man you killed?" he asked. The men were silent. "Perhaps I should tell you that this is Ali ibn Mohammed, the most wanted brigand in the Near East. There is a reward of one hundred gold pounds for anyone who finds him, dead or alive.
"It was me who killed him," said my father.
"He's lying," said the Armenian. "I killed him."
In the end, after much argument, they split the reward.