The Lemon Tree
To see in human scale the tragic collision of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Tolan focuses on one small stone house in Ramla–once an Arab community but now Jewish. Built in 1936 by an Arab family but acquired by a Jewish family after the Israelis captured the city in 1948, this simple stone house has anchored for decades the hopes of both its displaced former owners and its new Jewish occupants.
With remarkable sensitivity to both families’ grievances, Tolan chronicles the unlikely chain of events that in 1967 brought a long-dispossessed Palestinian son to the threshold of his former home, where he unexpectedly finds himself being welcomed by the daughter of Bulgarian Jewish immigrants. Though that visit exposes bitterly opposed interpretations of the past, it opens a real–albeit painful–dialogue about possibilities for the future. As he establishes the context for that dialogue, Tolan frankly details the interethnic hostilities that have scarred both families.
Yet he also allows readers to see the courage of families sincerely trying to understand their enemy. Only such courage has made possible the surprising conversion of the contested stone house into a kindergarten for Arab children and a center for Jewish-Arab coexistence. What has been achieved in one small stone building remains fragile in a land where peacemaking looks increasingly futile. But Tolan opens the prospect of a new beginning in a concluding account of how Jewish and Arab children have together planted seeds salvaged from one desiccated lemon tree planted long ago behind one stone house. A much-needed antidote to the cynicism of realpolitik.
Kirkus Reviews Starred
The affecting story of an unlikely truce, even a peace, between Palestinians and Israelis in contested territory. The symbolic center of radio documentarian Tolan’s (Me and Hank, 2000) latest could not be simpler: In an old garden in the town Arabs call al-Ramla and Jews Ramla (neither name to be confused with the West Bank town of Ramallah, 20 miles away), a family cultivated a lemon tree that provided shade and refreshment for many years. When the Khairi family left al-Ramla, driven out in the Israeli War of Independence -a time Palestinians call Nakba, “the catastrophe”-a family of Bulgarian Jews took over the property, which, as far as they knew, had been “abandoned.”
Drawing on interviews and oral histories, Tolan reconstructs the stories each family, Khairi and Eshkenazi, told about their respective displacements, the lands they left behind, those who died and were born. His book begins with the arrival of three young Palestinian men in Ramla shortly after the Six Day War; stopping at houses they had once lived in, they asked the new inhabitants whether they could step inside to see them. Only one woman, a Tel Aviv university student named Dalia Eshkenazi, assented. “She knew,” writes Tolan, “that it was not advisable in the wake of war for a young Israeli woman to invite three Arab men inside her house”; yet she did, and from that simple act, a sort of friendship evolved, even as events made Dalia more resolute in her defense of Israel and turned the oldest of the men, Bashir Al-Khairi, into a freedom fighter-or terrorist, if you will-in the Palestinian cause.
Through broad sweeps of narrative going back and forward in time, Tolan’s sensitively told, eminently fair-minded narrative closes with a return to that lemon tree and its promise of reconciliation. Humane and literate-and rather daring in suggesting that the future of the Middle East need not be violent.
Library Journal Starred
Journalist Tolan (Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero 25 Years Later) captures the Arab-Israeli struggle in this story of a house and the two families, first Palestinian and then Jewish, who successively lived in it. Members of both families came to know one another and to seek dialog between Arabs and Jews. This wonderful human story vividly depicts the depths of attachment to contested ground. An excellent choice for general readers.
Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Starred Review for The Lemon Tree
The title of this moving, well-crafted book refers to a tree in the backyard of a home in Ramla , Israel . The home is currently owned by Dalia, a Jewish woman whose family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria . But before Israel gained its independence in 1948, the house was owned by the Palestinian family of Bashir, who meets Dalia when he returns to see his family home after the Six-Day War of 1967. Journalist Tolan (Me & Hank) traces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir and their families-all refugees seeking a home.
As Tolan takes the story forward, Dalia struggles with her Israeli identity, and Bashir struggles with decades in Israeli prisons for suspected terrorist activities. Those looking for even a symbolic magical solution to that conflict won’t find it here: the lemon tree dies in 1998, just as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stagnates. But as they follow Dalia and Bashir’s difficult friendship, readers will experience one of the world’s most stubborn conflicts firsthand. 2 maps. (May)
Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.