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The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East - Sandy Tolan This is the true story of Dalia, a Bulgarian Jew, and Bashir, a Palestinian Arab. Both were uprooted from their homes for different, but related reasons; one was uprooted because of the Holocaust in Europe and the other because of the founding of the state of Israel which resulted from the heinous acts committed against Jews during the Holocaust. It must be mentioned here that the Arabs of Palestine supported Hitler and his Holocaust. They had a common enemy: Jews and Great Britain.
Both people claimed the same land, Israel, only known by that name since 1948, when it was given to the Jews by a United Nations declaration. However, since the ownership of that land is now and has always been disputed, war is never-ending and fear is a constant companion for all sides considered.
Dalia and Bashir meet in 1967, when Bashir knocks on the door of her home only months after the Arab defeat in the 6-day war, just one of a series of violent acts toward the newly formed country since its inception. He asks to see the place he used to call his home, and she graciously grants that wish to him and his two friends who illegally traveled into Israel from their place of exile in the Arab territory. Over the ensuing years, they both become what I shall call frenemies, since they are both driven by different motives and goals, but both also inspiring a feeling of friendship for each other and a concern for each other’s plight. Their needs and solutions pit them squarely in a fight against each other on the playing field that is Israel.
Dalia seeks a solution that will require sacrifice by all parties involved, because she believes it could bring peace to the Middle East. Bashir seeks a solution in which Jews are driven out of their country and sent back to the place they came from. He will not tolerate any compromise regarding the land or the Jews who recently emigrated to his country.
Through their friendship, Dalia learns how her family acquired their home and how Bashir unfairly lost his when Israel commandeered it and forced the community he lived in to flee. She is sympathetic, but realizes that there is nothing she can do about it. She cannot return the home to him, she cannot even sell it to him. It is a brutal mark on Israel’s history, but the Arabs wanted to drive them out, and the newly formed Israel saw no other way to guarantee its survival other than to kill or be killed. Israelis chose survival as cruel as its implementation required.
Bashir, unwilling to compromise in any way, wants only to regain the self respect his family lost which requires them to be able to return to their home, no strings attached. In conjunction, he wants the Jews to return to their homes, not understanding that they often had no home to return to because of the Holocaust. They were not wanted anywhere. Bashir, like the Israelis, believed that any means would justify the end of achieving the right of return. Although he has never admitted it, he was arrested many times for participating in acts of violence and terrorism in Israel. Unlike Dalia, who, to be fair, does have the upper hand as an Israeli, he does not want to work through peaceful means.
The book dwells largely on the different paths each of them follow to find a solution. Dalia eventually creates a school for Arab children in their mutual former home, and Bashir becomes an Arab Freedom Fighter, involved with many violent groups and spending many years of his life in Israeli prisons for the cause of a one-state solution to the Middle East controversy..
Dalia finds it hard to understand how someone she cares about, and supposedly someone who cares about her, can want the annihilation of her people. Yet Israel is also carrying out deeds of brutality, torture and murder, as they invade lands preemptively to protect their territory and their settlers. She finds it hard to justify or understand either behavior.
While Dalia is shown in a sympathetic light, and Bashir is depicted as someone who is the product of years of Israeli abuse, there is little true causation presented that connects the deeds of each enemy toward each other. Therefore, The brutality of Israeli actions often appear to be occurring in a vacuum rather than in reaction to Arab provocation. Israel would probably not exist today had they not taken swift action against their enemies, even preemptively. Did the means justify the ends? Since the Arabs were intransigent and would not accept Israel’s right to exist, after the state was created, I, personally, believe they did.
Dalia appears to be naïve and more than just a little idealistic. Bashir is grounded in his belief that he has the right to return to his family’s land. He beieves in achieving this goal by any means possible. His children are taught that Israel is the cause of all their problems, rather than their refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. They do not own their responsibility for some of the brutality inflicted upon their people, and they feel no guilt for causing so many unnecessary deaths No matter how hard she tries, Dalia cannot crack his stubborn façade. She believes that in friendship, if they both give up something, if they sacrifice equally, they can compromise and live together, and that this can be applied to the greater land around them, encompassing Arabs and Israelis. She, however, does understand that the right of return would negate Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
The book’s message is over simplified. Bashir really cares more for his Palestine than he does for Dalia. His connection to terrorist behavior could as easily kill her as well as other innocent and unknown Israelis or innocent Palestinians who lives in Israel. To him, Jews are interlopers who have no right to be there and must be driven out by any means. It is a view similar to the Israeli Jew about the Arabs, sadly.
The author often referred to Bashir’s belief about a resolution guaranteeing the right of return, but this resolution does not actually exist, and the author does not clarify this point, but rather allows the reader to believe what Bashir believes. It is the interpretation of that resolution by Bashir which is incorrect and the author should present it that way. http://www.mythsandfacts.org/conflict/10/resolution-194.pdf
The groups that Bashir supports do not recognize Israel’s history or its right to exist in what they believe is only “their land”. When Jordan controlled the holy sites, Jews and Christians were forbidden access to certain places, even though the UN resolution required it. When Israel controlled them, Jerusalem was unified and religious sites were open to all.
Throughout the Jewish history, they have been attacked just because they were Jews and were different. After a long history of exile and abuse, the Israelis are a bit paranoid, and with good reason. They are a tiny country in the midst of a huge Arab population that will not recognize their right to exist. There is not one Arab country truly willing to give Palestinian refugees sanctuary in their country, on a long term basis, with equal rights and freedoms, yet that is what the Arabs demand from the Jews they attacked the moment the state of Israel was declared.
Many Jews, like me, always believed that all reactions or hostilities, engaged in by Israel, were provoked. In reality, not all were, I learned. I discovered I know a lot about the Holocaust, but not as much about the birth and development of Israel. However, I do know that Israel reacted in its defense, to protect the country from annihilation by an enemy that did not recognize its right to exist, that thought they could wipe the people and the country from the map with impunity and suffer no consequences. When they were forced to pay for their violence, they rebelled and questioned why they were being treated so cruelly when they only, rightfully, wanted their land back.
The problem is this; it was no longer their land. Intransigence will prevent any peace. Both sides have to move to a middle ground, but Israel has no choice, if it wishes to maintain its Jewish identity, but to behave they way it did and will have to continue to do so. Those that do not understand this will wish to doom Israel to extinction. They may even hope for it, as their ultimate goal.
In the Middle East, as in other developed nations, assassinations have become more and more prevalent, as has terrorism. It is necessary to fight hard and early to survive. If two friends could not come to a single cohesive conclusion about how they could live together in peace, how can two separate peoples who desire the same country to call their own, find a pathway to peace?
Dalia could not understand how Bashir could plot to murder Israelis when she could become his victim, and yet, Bashir has become a victim of Israel’s prison system, perhaps not always fairly treated. Because time has passed since the book was published, the fluid situation in Israel has changed and it is now even more threatened by newly formed terrorist groups, by other Arab nations who have experienced the Arab Spring and by an Iran that will possibly soon acquire nuclear weapons. Who knows if there is even a plausible way out? I certainly don’t. However, the truth must be written, not for bleeding hearts, but for the real world with beating hearts for one man’s poison will become another man’s meat on another day.