By Sandy Tolan, Bloomsbury USA, December 1, 2008, 1596913436
The Lemon Tree illustrates the complexity of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Two families, one house, one lemon tree. Two people from the families meet. They become friends and remain enemies. Sandy Tolan tells their story through their eyes and others’ eyes in a deeply personal way.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lemon Tree. I’ve read other books about Palestine and Israel, which go into many facts. The Lemon Tree helps you understand the way Palestinians and Israelis view the conflict in a unique story. It’s got some political history, family history, and mostly personal history. You hear about Bashir’s incarcerations through Bashir’s eyes. You hear about Dalia’s liberal struggle through hers.
[k97] Like many Americans, I grew up with one part of the history, as told through the heroic birth of Israel out of the Holocaust.
[k101] In Uris’s engaging novel, Arabs are alternately pathetic or malicious, or perhaps worse; and they have little real claim to their land: “If the Arabs of Palestine loved their land, they could not have been forced from it–much less run from it without real cause.”
[k126] As Dalia says, “Our enemy is the only partner we have.”
[k174] This was partly why she believed what she had been told: The Arabs who lived in her house, and in hundreds of other stone homes in her city, had simply run away.
[k191] As they passed near Latrun, Bashir suddenly recalled a journey made in haste and fear two decades earlier. The details were elusive; he was trying to remember the stories from when he was six years old, events he had brooded about nearly every day for the last nineteen years.
[k210] As a younger child, she hadn’t questioned this story, but the older she got, the less sense it made: Why would anyone voluntarily leave such a beautiful house?
[k219] “You are right, habibi,” the man told Yasser, stammering awkwardly in the language of his visitor. “Once there was Abu Mohammad. Now, no more Abu Mohammad. Now, Mordechai!” The butcher invited his guests to stay for kebab, but the cousins were too stunned by the man’s true identity and too distracted by their own mission to accept his offer of food. They walked out, flustered.
[k242] Bashir and his cousins approached the house. Everything depended on the reception, Bashir told himself. You can’t know what the outcome will be, especially after what had happened to Yasser. “It depends,” he said, “who is on the other side of the door.”
[k857] None of this would have happened without what the Bulgarian-French intellectual Tzvetan Todorov calls “the fragility of goodness”: the intricate, delicate, unforeseeable weave of human action and historical events. If Liliana Panitsa and the others had not leaked the news of the deportations to their Jewish friends; if Asen Suichmezov and the Kyustendil delegation had not boarded the train for Sofia on the night of March 8; if Metropolitan Stefan and Bishop Kiril had followed Europe’s Catholic Church and declined to speak out; if one hundred things had not happened, or had happened differently, it is possible that the deportation plan would have picked up momentum, that forty-seven thousand Bulgarian Jews, including Moshe and Solia Eshkenazi, would have perished at Treblinka, and that Dalia would have never been born.
[k895] As the details of the atrocities in Europe began to emerge, however, the image of stateless, bedraggled Holocaust survivors in the Cyprus internment camps was seared into the mind of the Western public, and Britain was pressured to loosen its policy. U.S. president Harry Truman pressed Britain to allow one hundred thousand DPs into Palestine as soon as possible, and to abandon restrictions on land sales to Jews–measures sure to increase tensions with the Arabs of Palestine. Arabs argued that the Holocaust survivors could be settled elsewhere, including in the United States, which had imposed its own limits on settlement of European Jews.
[k907] In July 1946, operatives of Irgun planted bombs in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where the British housed their military and intelligence headquarters. The explosion killed more than eighty people. Tensions between the Haganah, controlled by David Ben-Gurion and the Mapai Party, and Irgun and the Stern Gang, led by future prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, sharpened ideological and tactical differences; these would continue for decades.
[k1363] In Bulgaria, however, Herzl was praised as “the new apostle of the new Jewish nationalism.”
[k1362] In much of Europe, including among Jewish intellectuals and even some rabbis, Herzl’s ideas were dismissed as Utopian or dangerous; he was called “the Jewish Jules Verne” and a “crazy careerist.” In Bulgaria, however, Herzl was praised as “the new apostle of the new Jewish nationalism.”
[k1369] Talk of a return to Zion went on for several decades in the pages of prewar Zionist newspapers in Bulgaria.
[k2020] The Arabs of the Ramla and Lod “ghettos” found their former homes occupied by Jewish families and their agricultural lands controlled by kibbutzim. Not at home, but not in exile, they were defined by the Israeli government as “present absentees.” Many sought legal recourse to move back into their houses or resume farming their lands.
[k2120] The Arabs, one textbook of the day declared, “preferred to leave” once the Jews had taken their towns. Dalia accepted the history she was taught. Still, she was confused. Why, she wondered, would anyone leave so willingly?
[k2211] Bulgarians, however they were labeled, were widely respected in Israel. They had none of what would come to be known as the “Holocaust complex.”
[k2591] In the wake of the June 1967 war and the Israeli occupation, the pan-Arab movement was in shreds, but the spirit of a Palestinian national liberation struggle was surging.
[k2954] Each had chosen to reside within the contradiction: They were enemies, and they were friends.
[k4582] “The intifada brought us this wall,” Ghiath proclaimed. He shrugged. “I’m a practical person. Since I can do nothing, I’m sad for nothing. If what you want does not happen, want what happens.”
[k4768] “You’re Bashir,” a commander barked. “We want you.” Bashir, sixty-nine years old, began to dress. His daughter was screaming, he recalled, so the soldiers taped her mouth shut.
[k4772] Like the other times since he was first arrested forty-four years earlier, his family members didn’t know where he was being taken or when they would see him again.
[k4787] Presently a new Shin Bet agent, the deputy of the chief interrogator, came to take his turn. Bashir later recalled his name as Solli.
[k4790] Agent Solli revealed that he and some of the other agents had read a book chronicling the story of Dalia and Bashir, and that they had been touched by the connection between two long-time enemies.