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

by Sandy Tolan

Paperback, 2007

Call number

956.94 TOL



Bloomsbury USA (2007), Edition: Reprint, 400 pages


The tale of a simple act of faith between two young people--one Israeli, one Palestinian--that symbolizes the hope for peace in the Middle East. In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into Israel, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out nearly twenty years earlier. Two were turned away, but the third was met at the door by a young woman who invited them in. This act, in the face of years of animosity, is the starting point for a true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab, one Jewish. In the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, Bashir sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust.--From publisher description.… (more)

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 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.… (more)
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 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 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 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.… (more)
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 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 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 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.… (more)
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 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 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 sheilakonen
Subuerb personal look at the Arab-Israeli conflict through the perspective of 2 families.
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 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!… (more)
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 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.… (more)
LibraryThing member shazjhb
Excellent book. More questions than answers.
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 Shutzie27
This was an excellently written, engrossing book and a good way to bring a very complex, very long geopolitical issue more accessible to the layman. I was just as enthralled by Tolan's notes as the book itself and found myself in constant admiration of his diligence in attributing sources or quotes.

Overall, I think Tolan did a good job being pretty even-handed, or as balanced as can be expected given the inherently vitriolic divisiveness of the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. I think he could have done a better job explaining the U.S.' interests in the region when relevant, but then again I also understand that wasn't the purpose of this book.

Regardless, this is a good introductory read about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least it was. Of course, so much has happened since 2006, when the book was published, I would also recommend brushing up on current events from them before forming any political opinions based on this book alone.

In the end, however, Tolan offers an accessible, well-researched and well-written glimpse into the humanity that drives both the conflict and the potential for peace in the region.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
28. The Lemon Tree : An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by [Sandy Tolan (2006, 352 page library Hardcover, read Apr 14-26)

The story of a kind of friendship between a Palestinian resistance leader, Bashir, and an Israeli Jew, Dalia, who grew up in the home he was evicted from in 1948. They first meet in 1967, in the aftermath of the six-day war. In this odd period of low security and low violence Bashir takes a bus to his old home, knocks on the door, and Dalia, a teenage Israeli soldier, answers and invites him in.

Tolan documents their story as way of covering the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He is meticulous with his facts and documentation. He remains impartial (kind of, as Dahlia is not an Israeli equivalent of Bashir, she is just a regular citizen) and manages to sympathetically cover the Palestinian perspective without neglecting the Jewish one.

Unfortunately the reading experience gets kind of dull. There is so much history that is just sort of wedged in there and there is not all that much to say about Bashir and Dalia's friendship other than a few interesting conversations and an important open letter.

The overall affect is thought-provoking. I found it quite moving to imagine this young idealistic Israeli girl just after the six day war trying to reason with a Palestinian, and this young man talking to her, listening and stating his case while, without her knowing, he is deeply involved in the resistance. Two idealistic young people with clashing misunderstandings in civil affectionate discussion. And then there is the after - some 40 years later Bashir has spent most of his life in prison and there is no reconciliation. This is not Northern Ireland. Nothing has been resolved - or even learned. That is sad and worth thinking about.
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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 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.… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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 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 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 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 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 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.… (more)




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