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

by Sandy Tolan

Book, 2006



Call number

890 TOL



New York : Bloomsbury Pub. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2006.


In 1967, not long after the Six Day War, a young Arab man named Bashir ventured into the town of Ramla in what is now Jewish Israel, on a pilgrimage to see his childhood home. He was greeted at the door by a young woman named Dalia, who invited him in. This act of kindness in the face of years of animosity and warfare is the starting point for a remarkable true story of two families, one Arab, one Jewish. Their unlikely friendship over the ensuing four decades represents the region's hope for peace. self-determination, and reconciliation.

User reviews

LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
Ostensibly, this is the (true) biography of the friendship between the Israeli woman Dalia Eshkenazi and the Palestinian man Bashir Khairi. However, the book also focuses strongly on background information--providing a wonderful history of the Israel-Palestine conflict since the 1940's. I was
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hugely pleased by this book for two reasons. First, the friendship between Dalia and Bashir was touching because they both had such strong nationalistic feelings. Somehow, despite their very different views, they were able to remain on good terms for many years. That's touching to me because many books with this let's-make-peace message tend to be about people who are all about love and peace and aren't as strongly influenced by their negative emotions as Dalia and (especially) Bashir. This is a friendship that was difficult to maintain, and yet it prevailed. The second reason I loved this book is because of the wonderful history of the region it provided. It's supposedly a "balanced" view--and it is, in the sense that it recommends justice (and sacrifice) be made by both sides. However, I'd say the book tended to be sympathetic towards to Palestinians. This SLIGHT bias is necessary in this case because many people in the Western world are over-exposed to the Israeli side and don't realize the Palestinians have a side at all. This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in the conflict.
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LibraryThing member krazy4katz
It took all the willpower I had to begin reading this book. Being brought up Jewish, believing (as I still do) in the right of Israel to exist in peace, I had to face harsh realities of what happened in 1948 and 1967 as well as in the later conflicts that I knew more about because they transpired
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when I was an adult. Tolan's book looked at what happened on the ground during the wars, the displacements, deaths, terrorist attacks and insecurities that occurred during this time. I don't know anything about Sandy Tolan so I am hesitant to say whether this is an accurate picture of 1948 or 1967. It does not exactly mesh with what I was taught, although you could put that down to differences in nuance. On the other hand "history is written by the victors" as the old saying goes.

The story is about a Palestinian Arab who travels back to his childhood home, from which he was forced to flee in 1948. There he meets a young Israeli woman who graciously takes him through the house. They begin a decades-long relationship — difficult to call it a friendship but maybe that is what it is — in which they have many discussions to try and find a way they can live with each other and each have a place they call home in the land of Palestine. I got into this beautifully written story looking for something to give me a direction, a road towards peace in the Middle East.

I am sorry to say this book did not give me much hope that a solution to the conflict between Arab and Israeli Palestinians can be found. Bashar and Dalia talk for decades without resolution. Her view is compromise in which the Palestinians establish a state at the pre-1967 border. His is the departure of Jews that arrived before the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the establishment of a secular state. I have my own opinions, which have changed over the years, on how to do that but I don't see anything constructive happening any time soon. The book is beautifully written and brings out the anguish and loss felt by both Arabs and Jews during times of persecution and displacement. I recommend it highly, with the reservation that I don't know how accurate the details are. I have found one website saying it is not, but others say differently. I am too emotional about the subject to know the truth. For that reason, I think I will leave it unstarred for now.
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LibraryThing member Scribble.Orca
Fairly meticulously researched. What is refreshing in this madness is that Tolan tells the story through the eyes of real people and lets the reader decide what to think - of course the subjectivity is present in Tolan's choice of which stories to tell, but he makes a very brave and thorough
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attempt to be as unbiased as possible.

Worth reading unless you cannot put aside your own prejudices about this topic.
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LibraryThing member kristio
I am enthralled by this book and am having serious trouble putting it down. Prior to reading this, I never really knew much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, other than it was a continuous problem. This book humanizes the struggle and puts faces to both sides of the conflict. I empathize with
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both Bashir and Dalia and want to learn more about this age-old struggle. I really love when a book can transport you to a world and make you feel as if you are actually there. This book truly does that.
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LibraryThing member skf
Having only heard the pro-Israeli point of view and knowing I'd be visiting a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, I was looking for something to tell me the other side of the story. I felt like this book was very balanced telling the story of a difficult situation--Israel/Palestine. Maybe a
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Palestinian wouldn't feel like it was balanced. Each side has committed atrocities and each side feels they are the victims. I've seen the wall in Bethlehem, heard the stories of relatives killed by the police, seen the police checkpoints to keep suicide bombers out, and had security at the airport say, "We have to check the gifts your friend gave you because we're afraid he might use you to carry a bomb." There's real fear, real crimes, and a real big problem.
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LibraryThing member marient
Informative book on the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the settlement of Palestine. A little long on dates and facts but overall does paint a good picture of the problems.
LibraryThing member JBCrocker
The story of the people in this book is remarkable to me. I knew little of the history of the Middle East in such great detail and was grateful for the author's background on Middle East history.
LibraryThing member NanceJ
I thought this book was going to be more about the story of two people, but it turned out to be the history of two cultures (Arabs and Jews) and the two people from opposites sides were used to tell the story. The book is 99.9% factual and though it's billed as a novel, it reads more like a history
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book. It was very interesting to me, as my knowledge of the issues was slim to none, but there were so many names and places and events that I'm afraid I didn't retain very much. I might read it again and take notes.
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LibraryThing member oldbookswine
An excellent read to show the other side of the story. Good people can make great changes, one step by one step.
LibraryThing member StephanieCairo
This book was wonderfully enlightening. If you really want to get a true understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, this is the book to read. It's a real eye-opener about the media in our country as well. We generally never ever hear anything positive about the Palestinians while Israel's
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actions are always condoned and championed. While it does illuminate the complexity of the issues surrounding the struggle, it also highlights how difficult resolution will be. Although the author does end on a hopeful note with a symbolic planting of a new lemon tree to replace the one that died, now that I understand the conflict better, it seems even more hopeless that a resolution will be ever be found. Both sides are innocent and guilty and there is no right or wrong! The only criticism that I can make about the book is that I think maps should have been included, It would have made the book much easier to process and saved me lots of time!
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LibraryThing member sheilakonen
Subuerb personal look at the Arab-Israeli conflict through the perspective of 2 families.
LibraryThing member rivergen
The author prides himself on having written a completely factual account of the conflict in Palestine/Israel, without inference, assumptions, or embellishment. While he is to be commended for his unbiased account, it reads like a high school history book, just series of names, dates, and facts, for
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the most part devoid of character development and feeling - especially in the first half. I almost gave up on it dozens of times but was compelled to continue due to the positive reviews it had received. While I learned a great deal about the conflict and its historical roots, and feel deeply saddened at the depths of despair felt by the population and the political stubbornness preventing a peaceful end to the problems, I was nonetheless unmoved by this book due to the dryness of the writing. Personally, I needed more of a personal story, with more of an emphasis on what people were feeling and how their daily lives were affected.
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LibraryThing member bookwoman247
This is the history of the birth of modern Israel and the Middle East conflict as told through the personal stories of Bashir, and Arab man who was displaced from his childhood home and Dalia, a young Israeli girl who grew up in, and now lives in his former home, and it is the story of the
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development of their friendship.

This was an interesting book that gives a face to those on either side of the conflict. Tolan's research seems impeccable. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to understand that area of the world.
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LibraryThing member bluesviola
very good book about the differences, similarities and history of the Palestine/Israel conflict. An absolute must read for anyone even vaguely interested in the middle east.
LibraryThing member Gerlu
If you read nothing else about the middle east, read this book. Reads live a novel about family history and does an amazing job of telling both sides of the story with equal passion
LibraryThing member jothebookgirl
In 1967, Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian twenty-five-year-old, journeyed to Israel, with the goal of seeing the beloved old stone house, with the lemon tree behind it that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. Not knowing what expect, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia
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Ashkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. Dalia and Bashir began an unlikely friendship, in the aftermath of war and tested over the next thirty-five years in ways that neither could imagine.
The author conducted extensive research for this book and has managed to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to a human level. Here, even amid the harshest of political realities there exist stories of hope and reconciliation.

This is an excellent work of nonfiction. I like non fiction, but prefer historical fiction. Therefore for this reader I found some of the historical aspects to be a bit tedious.
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LibraryThing member dlweeks
One of the best books I have read in a long time. Tolan brings you into the character's lives in such a way that the story really hits home. Historically accurate and just an amazing read. I really hope more people find this book.
LibraryThing member Zumbanista
The Lemon Tree

The idea of telling the story of the creation of the State of Israel via the 2 families who lived in the same house is commendable. In practical terms though, there is so much history and politics to explore that the story sags under its weight. It's obvious the author has done
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painstaking research in writing this non-fiction biographical account of life in Israel.

Having said that, I learned a lot about the creation of the State of Israel and the tragic decades that followed. Although I'm fully aware of the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis, I never realized the extent and duration of their hostility.

Initial hope turns into despair and rage on both sides and the prospect of Peace is pretty much non-existent.

Blame can be laid in many directions: the perfidious British, the revolving door of alliances of the world powers with Egypt and Israel, Jordanian ambitions, and the weak actions of UN.

Finally, both Jews and Arabs must look to themselves in this Gordian Knot which is impossible to unravel. I despair of any meaningful solution in the near future if feelings and actions remain as they are.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
This book was not as well written as I would have liked, but the information was very important. I felt the author was definitely pro-Palestinian, but he provided many details that are very upsetting.
LibraryThing member LynnB
An interesting read about a Bulgarian Jewish woman whose family emigrated to Israel in the 1940s and a Palestian man, about her own age, whose house her family lives in. Bashir and his family fled their home during the war and they now live in the occupied West Bank. One day, he decides to visit
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the home of his childhood, knocks on the door and (surprisingly) Dahlia invites him in. They form a friendship, through which we learn the history of the conflict through the perspectives of two people who are living through it and its aftermath. Very interesting read....lots of history combined with the story of these two people who, though they disagree, work hard to keep talking to each other.
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LibraryThing member BHS.Librarians
This book traces the intertwined histories of Bashir Khair, a Moslem Palestinian, and Dalia Eskenazi, an Israeli Jew, and their families through the house in which they both spent their childhoods. Bashir’s father built the house himself in al-Ramla in 1936; his family had lived in Palestine
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under the Ottomans for generations and were prominent in the city. Forced east from their house and town during the 1948 war, they left their roots behind. Arriving in Israel after the 1948 war, having survived the Holocaust, Dalia and her parents moved to al-Ramla and into the Khair’s house. Having been taught the Arabs fled, Dalia often wondered why people would leave such a beautiful home. When the borders opened after the 1967 war, Bashir and 2 cousins visited al-Ramla to see their former homes. Dalia welcomed them, inviting them to see the whole house and served them refreshments in the garden by the lemon tree Bashir’s father planted. Thus began an extraordinary relationship between a Palestinian who has never relented in his quest for his country and a Jewish Israeli who is equally determined to protect her country while still seeking justice for and peace with the Palestinians. The author’s 7 years of research are reflected in the extensive historical detail of the region, going back many years, along with the personal details of both families up to 2006. Heroes of each side are represented for good and bad actions, but the heart of the story remains on Dalia and Bashir, their families and the connections they have maintained for more than 35 years. This book will provide a deep understanding for anyone who wants a true picture of Israeli-Palestinian issues.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Excellent book. More questions than answers.
LibraryThing member Jean_Roberts
This book pretty much sucked away all the hope I had for a peaceful resolution of the Arab/Israeli situation.
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
I feel embarrassed writing this, but I don't know a whole lot about the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East. I mean, I've heard of the major milestones that have shaped it during my own lifetime, but the background, I don't know a lot about it. And before reading "The
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Lemon Tree", I knew even less.

Which is why I think this is a fairly good introduction to the conflict's major dilemmas. Yes, it forgoes some of the historical sweep of the events that it describes to focus on the lives of two people, Dalia and Bashir, who have a house and a lemon tree in common. But their relationship also serves as a potent allegory for some of the conflict's most complex and intractable questions. They are, after all, two individuals who have an interest in a very specific peace of land, and, to varying extents, their lives were shaped by the conflict about who really owns it. In the book's introduction, Tolan relates how his book was, astonishingly enough, received warmly by people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but this was clearly his intention. Whether he's describing what local politics was like in Ramla before the British left or talking about how Dalia's parents' memories of Bulgaria influenced her, the past weighs heavily on everyone here. Unfortunately, one of the other things they seem to have in common is a conviction that they belong in Palestine. Tolan should be credited for explaining how individuals from two communities might have reason to believe this, but it's a a mutual assertion that seemed to be running out of common ground for potential negotiation even when the book was published. The potential for deal-making has not, to say the least, has not improved since.

There are a couple of other interesting themes running through "The Lemon Tree." Tolan writes well about the Bulgarian experience in World War II and how a nominal fascist ally was able to save -- if sometimes at a terrible price -- a very significant percentage of its Jewish community from the Nazis. He also writes well about how the region's politics have become less flexible on both sides as time has gone by. A growing feeling on the Palestinian side that return was not inevitable has made violence insurrection seem more appealing, while Israel's politics have, in some ways, grown less democratic and amenable to any sort of compromise. In this context, it's heartbreaking to read about the slow decline of the Oslo Accords and how much attitudes and facts on the ground have shifted since various two-state solutions were proposed. While Bashir and Dalia's connection still seems like a courageous and valuable thing, "The Lemon Tree" is not necessarily an optimistic book, as both communities' claims are still deeply felt and victory by one side might require the obliteration of the others' entire self-concept. The house describes in this book still stands, and is being used both as a school for local Arab children and as a point of encounter for both communities. It's a small enough hope in a confoundingly difficult situation.
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LibraryThing member moukayedr
Meticulously researched story. It presents two parallel stories of an Israeli early settler and a Palestinian refugee, and the connection they share over 40 years. I was enthralled by the historical aspect and the arguments on each side. Both were presented fairly.

The book has encouraged me to read
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even more about the conflict in the middle east. I will be trying out some of the books mentioned in the extensive bibliography for this work.

My only gripe with the book is that the emotional aspect between the two protagonist was a bit forced. The loose connection they shared was over-emphasized I felt. Still, the fact that two people on either side of this divide managed to even think of the other's perspective is a start. The problem we have is that most inside this conflict never stop to consider what it was like for the other.
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Original publication date



1596913436 / 9781596913431
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