The Lemon Tree

The Lemon Tree

An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

Book - 2006 | First U.S. edition.
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The tale of a simple act of faith between two young people - one Israeli, one Palestinian - that symbolizes the hope for peace in the Middle East.

In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramle, in what is now Jewish Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir Al-Khairi, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited them in.

This act of faith in the face of many years of animosity is the starting point for a true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the regio. In his childhood home, in the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, Bashir sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948 with her family from Bulgaria, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust. As both are swept up in the fates of their people, and Bashir is jailed for his alleged part in a supermarket bombing, the friends do not speak for years. They finally reconcile and convert the house in Ramle into a day-care centre for Arab children of Israel, and a center for dialogue between Arabs and Jews. Now the dialogue they started seems more threatened than ever; the lemon tree died in 1998, and Bashir was jailed again, without charge.

The Lemon Tree grew out of a forty-three minute radio documentary that Sandy Tolan produced for Fresh Air. With this book, he pursues the story into the homes and histories of the two families at its center, and up to the present day. Their stories form a personal microcosm of the last seventy years of Israeli-Palestinian history. In a region that seems ever more divided, The Lemon Tree is a reminder of all that is at stake, and of all that is still possible.

Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury Pub., 2006.
Edition: First U.S. edition.
ISBN: 9781582343433
1582343438
9780593057452
9780593057469
Branch Call Number: 956.9405 TOL
Characteristics: xiv, 362 pages :,maps ;,25 cm

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dnk
Feb 02, 2018

The story follows Bashir, an Arab whose family was forced to leave the home his father had built when he was six, in 1948, and Dalia, whose family emigrated to Israel from Bulgaria that same year and moved into Bashir's home shortly thereafter. While Dalia was raised to believe that the Arabs had willingly abandoned their homes because they were cowards, she began to question that narrative because it simply didn't make sense to her.

The focal point of the book is the meeting between Bashir and Dalia at what she comes to think of as their home. They remain divided in outlook throughout their lives: he believes that the Palestinian right of return is something that can't be compromised and is ambivalent about what should happen to the Jews who now live there; she believes that Israeli Jews need to acknowledge what happened in 1948 and even apologize for it, but she stops short at a full right of return, arguing that this would mean the end for Israeli Jews. Indeed, although Bashir is undoubtedly Dalia's friend, he and members of his family insist that the Jews either return to "where they came from" or go to America. However, at other points, he offers a one-state solution in which both Palestinians and Jews could live together. But for Dalia this is a non-starter.

It's fair to say that Tolan's interpretations of events are sympathetic to Palestinians and critical of Israelis. Perhaps it goes further, as he also offers what sometimes sounds like apologias for Nasser and the kings of Jordan (even though no such explanations are offered for the Syrians). The fact that he references a historical record of independent American assessments that would back up his readings of Nasser should, however, give people pause before assuming an out of hand bias. Even at their most sympathetic, those men look like leaders who choose propaganda to hold onto their people.

The many accounts of torture at the hands of Israeli forces are truly disturbing. (Should we be comforted that the accounts of Syrian detention sound worse?) Tolan does a good job of conveying both the terror the Israelis felt (feel?) during the Intifadas and the seething sense of injustice Palestinians felt as they were punished en masse for acts only some of them committed. It's easy to appreciate how both the terror and the humiliation fed into a cycle of continued violence and acrimony that continues to this day.

The book is unsettling because it provides insights but doesn't point to solutions. Worse, it seems to imply that the best Dalia, Bashir and their peers can hope for is a dialogue without resolution. It will be for the next generation- the one that doesn't remember?- to truly resolve the conflict, if such a resolution can be found.

Uncomfortable but recommended.

c
chloecat
Oct 16, 2016

Interesting connection between the Jewish woman, and the Arab man. However, I finished the book with the feeling that the conflict there will never be settled, as the Arabs are insistent that they want their land back, and if not, it is not a negotiable situation. I was also overwhelmed at the number of times, so called supporters of the conflicts, we're playing both sides against the other.
I think this is an important book, giving a realistic overview of Middle East problems without favouring the position of either side. Highly recommend.

ser_library Jun 24, 2015

a moving and well written history of personal reconciliation

n
nsystems
Feb 02, 2015

A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist - Tolan writes in his introduction, “…precious little light had fallen on the human side of the story, the common ground between enemies, and genuine hopes for coexistence.”

He shines a lot of light in this book. Highest recommendation.

e
Englefield
Dec 04, 2012

Very informative. Appeared to be an unbiased, very factual (nothing has been created for this book, all thoroughly researched - nearly half the book related to references) book. I valued the information I received from reading it.

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