The warp of the story is the establishment of the state of Israel. The weft is the continuing conundrum: In the creation of a new Jewish state, was it right to remove Arab families from a land they considered home for thousands of years? Was the land, by right, Israeli; had they, indeed, been driven from it 2,000 years before?
In The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, the author takes a tangential approach to the issue. He provides an abridged history before looking at the result through the eyes of two young people: Bashir, scion of the Khairi family, whose history traces back to the 16th century, and Dalia, daughter of the Eshkenazi family, Bulgarian Jews who came to their Promised Land in 1948.
One day in 1967, these two young people meet and sit in the yard of a house in Ramla. The yard has a lemon tree. The tree provides the connection, the nexus through which their story – and that of their people – develops.
A friendship grows and strengthens between our real life couple, despite Dalia being a member of the Jewish community and Bashir’s association with the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine, through which involvement he is frequently imprisoned.
The house was designed and built by Bashir’s father in 1936, at which time the lemon tree was planted. During the 1948 war, Arab families were expelled from al-Ramla and sent to refugee camps at Ramallah. Just months after the Khairi family’s expulsion, Dalia and her family arrived in Israel and were resettled in that very house. Nineteen years later, Bashir made his way back to take a look at what had been the home of his birth.
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Be prepared to become involved when reading this excellent work. We are told, in Ecclesiastes, there is “…a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal.” Although it is not the lot of the reader to establish ultimate right and wrong in the arguments put forward, it behoves us to do as we do with so much of life, to look at the issues and shape, as best we can, a reasonable balance.
As the book shows, that rarely happened.
Postscript – The house exists to this day. Out of deference to Bashir’s not unreasonable sense of injustice over his lost home, Dalia donated the house in 1991 as a kindergarten for Arab children. In its present function, it operates as a peace and educational centre.
The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan, is available to purchase through Dymocks.
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