Friday, October 16, 2009

Life around the Lemon Tree - a book review

Frenchman River near Val Marie
At the heart of Sandy Tolan’s, The Lemon Tree lies the preponderant question of Palestine: where is justice and fairness when one person’s safety and livelihood must be won at the expense of another, and/or the other way ‘round. Bashir grew up in a house in Ramla; in 1949, Zionist advances into the area of Lydda and Ramla resulted in thousands of Palestinians being driven from their homes and orchards to take refuge in the West Bank and Gaza. A Jewish family immigrating from Bulgaria was given the right to select a new home in Ramla, and it was Bashir’s home they chose. Dalia, a daughter in this Jewish family ended up becoming friends with Bashir, but in one of their conversations, Bashir says:

"The Nazis killed the Jews. And we hate them. But why should we pay for what they did? Our people welcomed the Jewish people during the Ottoman Empire. They came to us running away from the Europeans and we welcomed them with all that we had. We took care of them. But now, because you want to live in a safe place, other people live in pain. If we take your family, for example. You came running from another place. Where should you stay? In a house that is owned by someone else? Will you take the house from them? And the owners—us—should leave the house and go to another place? Is it justice that we should be expelled from our cities, our villages, our streets? We have history here—Lydda, Haifa, Jaffa, al-Ramla. Many Jews who came here believed they were a people without land going to a land without people. That is ignoring the indigenous people of this land. … Zionism did this to you, not just to the Palestinians. (Tolan, Sandy. The Lemon Tree. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. p. 160-161)."

It seems to me that the Israeli theft of large portions of Palestine will be shown historically to have been one of the major scandals of the 20th Century, extending into the 21st. Sandy Tolan has researched and documented carefully the events that began early in the last century, leading to the situation we have today: an armed and dangerous standoff with Israel continuing to solidify its annexation of the region, unbending in its refusal to recognize the Palestinians' right to return to illegally-appropriated property.

Tolan does what most other writers on the subject have not been able to do. He has given the Palestinian conflict a human face. He tells the story of two families—one Palestinian, one Jewish—whose destinies cross paths, and he tells it tenderly and sensitively. It’s a tale that rises above the dreary plain of politics and worn-out creeds, and brings to readers the heart of the matter. Tolan not only tells what it’s like, he conveys what it feels like to the people to whom this entire conflict really matters.

Tolan sums up his goals in writing The Lemon Tree in his “Author’s Note:” “By juxtaposing and joining the histories of two families . . . and placing them in the larger context of the days’ events, I hope to help build an understanding of the reality and the history of two people on the same land.”

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