Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

I read this book because I sat next to a Palestinian woman who told me that her parents were forced to leave their home in Haifa and had to move with their four children to another country. She was only four when they were displaced. When I said that I thought that most of the Israelis and most of the Palestinians wanted peace she said, "I agree, but there is one difference we are occupied."

In the course of our conversation she suggested this book as a good way to view the situation from two viewpoints. I read the book and it has stayed with me. Sandy Tolan spent seven years researching the material for the book. This is not a hastily collaged piece of journalism. There are pages and pages of bibliography—each fact is substantiated. Conversations that happened a long time ago are not made up of whole cloth, but the remembered snippets of speech from either the participants or observers.

The first part of the book outlines the history of Israel from the time of the Balfour Resolution to 2008. Tolan documents the realities for Israel and how those realities have forced them to resort to tactics that would be anathema to how they want to act. Tolan doesn't take sides. He shows how both sides feel that they are right and that is an intractable obstacle to peace.

This is ultimately about one house and two families. The Palestinian family—the Khairis— had lived in their al-Ramia home for decades and were forced out of the home when Israel forces moved into that area. Bashir al-Khari was a young boy when they were forced to leave. He grows to manhood believing that those who were displaced should be able to return to their ancestral homes.

Dalia Landau was born shortly after her parents left Bulgaria in 1948. They, like many others who immigrated to Isreal had suffered during
the Holocaust. Her family was told to select an unoccupied home in al-Ramia because the previous occupants had left. When she grew up that story seemed implausible.

In 1967 Bashir, desirous of visiting the home he knew as a young child, travels to his childhood home. Dalia invites him in and enjoins him to walk around and revisit the home. The Lemon Tree his father had planted still grew in the backyard and still produced lemons.

That first visit begins a long relationship between the two and while they have different perspectives on what should happen to the land they become close friends. Irrespective of their differences, and sometimes biting words, they persevere and continue talking.

Tolan's narrative is spellbinding as are Bashir and Dalia. For there to be peace dialogues must embraced.

Non-fiction challenge

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