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The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
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The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East [Kindle Edition]

Sandy Tolan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The title of this moving, well-crafted book refers to a tree in the backyard of a home in Ramla, Israel. The home is currently owned by Dalia, a Jewish woman whose family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria. But before Israel gained its independence in 1948, the house was owned by the Palestinian family of Bashir, who meets Dalia when he returns to see his family home after the Six-Day War of 1967. Journalist Tolan (Me & Hank) traces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir and their families—all refugees seeking a home. As Tolan takes the story forward, Dalia struggles with her Israeli identity, and Bashir struggles with decades in Israeli prisons for suspected terrorist activities. Those looking for even a symbolic magical solution to that conflict won't find it here: the lemon tree dies in 1998, just as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stagnates. But as they follow Dalia and Bashir's difficult friendship, readers will experience one of the world's most stubborn conflicts firsthand. 2 maps. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* To see in human scale the tragic collision of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Tolan focuses on one small stone house in Ramla--once an Arab community but now Jewish. Built in 1936 by an Arab family but acquired by a Jewish family after the Israelis captured the city in 1948, this simple stone house has anchored for decades the hopes of both its displaced former owners and its new Jewish occupants. With remarkable sensitivity to both families' grievances, Tolan chronicles the unlikely chain of events that in 1967 brought a long-dispossessed Palestinian son to the threshold of his former home, where he unexpectedly finds himself being welcomed by the daughter of Bulgarian Jewish immigrants. Though that visit exposes bitterly opposed interpretations of the past, it opens a real--albeit painful--dialogue about possibilities for the future. As he establishes the context for that dialogue, Tolan frankly details the interethnic hostilities that have scarred both families. Yet he also allows readers to see the courage of families sincerely trying to understand their enemy. Only such courage has made possible the surprising conversion of the contested stone house into a kindergarten for Arab children and a center for Jewish-Arab coexistence. What has been achieved in one small stone building remains fragile in a land where peacemaking looks increasingly futile. But Tolan opens the prospect of a new beginning in a concluding account of how Jewish and Arab children have together planted seeds salvaged from one desiccated lemon tree planted long ago behind one stone house. A much-needed antidote to the cynicism of realpolitik. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional book Feb. 18 2010
If you wish to understand the Middle East conflict which has dominated the news and the world for 60 years, this book is a very comprehensive exploration of the issues which lie at the heart of the problem. It is told as a narrative about 2 very real families who are on either side of a great divide. Mr. Tolan puts a human face to an ugly, complicated and critical issue as he educates the reader about the facts surrounding the conflict. It should be required reading for everyone who cares about, wondered about or is affected by this issue.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE LEMON TREE Oct. 21 2013
By speel
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a book that is well researched and, I believe, accurate. A few years ago my wife and I had occassion to spend some tome in Israel/Palistine and what we saw and experienced is well reflected in the book. We deliberately stayed in East Jerusalem in a Palistian hotel. We contracted with Israli, Palistian and Christian guides. We saw many things that are not normally reported in the Western press. We visited with a palistian family that had been evicted from their house in the middle of the night so that a new Jewish family could move in. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
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By Kenny
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well written and, I believe, well balanced on-the-ground account of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The history of the conflict is woven into the story of a house in old Palestine, vacated in 1948 by a Palestinian family, and later occupied by Bulgarian Jews. The two families ultimately meet and the house and land (and the lemon tree) become the focus of their debates on the necessities and injustices of the current situation. Sandy Tolan's credentials make him highly credible on the issue, and a detailed annotation and bibliography is provided for the reader. Recommended reading for anyone with an opinion on the issue.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting read March 19 2008
By Gignak
I found this book to be a balanced review of the situation in the middle east. It explains the inevitable escalation of violence in that region, yet offers hope for the future.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  358 reviews
298 of 327 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lemon Tree May 9 2006
By M. Socci - Published on
In my 56 years, I've read several books that have changed my life--brought me greater understandings, taught me things I didn't know, mesmerized me so much that I took the books with me everywhere I went--even reading at stop lights! The Lemon Tree is right up there with The Haj, Hawaii, and Night. This history fills in all the gaps of my previous knowledge. So many people have questions about the Middle Eastern conflicts and all of those questions are answered in this book. My friends and I agree that we all SHOULD know more about the Middle East situation, but rarely do we want to sit down and study a history book. This book is full of facts, but it's a page turner!I could hardly put it down. My life was on hold. One day I was reading The Lemon Tree and I actually started crying. There were heart-stopping moments, too. Very exciting! A thriller! I want to meet the real people in the book so much. They are so brave, both Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Jews. I love how Sandy Tolan showed Israel through different view points, e.g. al-Ramla through Arabic eyes and Ramla through Israeli eyes. It helped shift my thinking as I was reading. Everyone simply has to read this book, both sides, all sides!
170 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassion, History, Documentation, Hope May 3 2006
By Victoria Lindsay - Published on
Who has a heart large enough to contain compassion both for the longing for Zion, for sanctuary, for homeland, of the Jewish survivors who emigrated to the nascent Israel after WWII, and at the same time the longing for return, for justice, for homeland, of the Palestinians who were expelled from the homes they had occupied for generations to make room for what was to become Israel?

Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree, has, and when you read this remarkable book your heart, too, will stretch until it is large enough to encompass the whole.

If you don't know the history of Palestine and Israel, read this book. It is a true story, but it reads like a novel. It's a page-turner that tells "Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Israel and Palestine, but were afraid to ask."

If you know the history, but you find the subject difficult to discuss with others, read this book for back-up. Every event is documented in the extensive source notes. Arab accounts of what occurred around 1948 have long been available. Israeli Army reports of the same events were declassified only 50 years after the fact. Only since then have the disparate narratives begun to intertwine into one coherent story of what happened in 1948 and after. All of the historic phenomena are documented here from both Israeli and Palestinian sources.

If you follow the news of the region, and therefore you despair, read this book. You'll discover that hope prevails -- in the care of those who sneak across borders to knock on doors, and those who, having considered and rejected more conventional responses to presumed enemies, instead answer, "Yes. Please come in."
280 of 324 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read but deeply flawed Dec 27 2006
By M. Reid - Published on
This book is both a "must read" and at the same time it is deeply flawed. If you are seeking an emotional and decidedly gripping account of the Middle-east conflict this is an excellent choice. It will also serve admirably to put a face on both sides of the conflict. It should challenge the everyone who already associates themselves with a position on the matter to question their beliefs and to seriously consider the point of view of the other side in a meaningful way.

That said, where this book falls down is in the objectivity department. Put simply the author clearly attempted mightily to be unbiased and balanced but still allowed personal bias and spin to infiltrate the book. In its weakest form, the author's bias makes him much more likely to credit accounts favorable to the Palestinian Arabs and hostile to the Palestinian Jews* (Hereafter "Israelis"). He often sites sources and historians with a known and recognizable agenda, as well as "fringe" sources. However, this is largely forgivable because he sometimes also provides a balancing point of view to compensate or at least admits when facts are in significant dispute.

However, a worse failing is the tendency to systematically "spin" information to the determent of Israel. For example, in a later chapter on the 2nd Indefada (the riots, or uprisings, or terrorist acts, or insurgency -depending on who you ask- of 2000 and following years) he mentions the Israeli accusation that Palestinian gunmen operated from behind a screen of civilians, usually children. He goes on to say that a UN investigation revealed that this was "the exception rather than the rule." This is a case of "spin" when one considers that the UN actually confirmed that the Israeli accusation was founded in fact. To call it the "exception" is casting the evidence in light as favorable to one side as possible. In other cases, he presents facts that are generally very well established and corroborated by neutral sources or even the Arabs as "Israeli assertions." For example, he mentions villages that the Israelis cleared after capturing them in the 6Day War because "Israelis claimed" they had participated in attacks on Jewish forces during the 1948 War. He does not mention that the NY Times and the Jordanian Army also confirmed that fact. To add the phrase "Israel claims" etc. indicates that the following may not be true; it can and should be used when there is real doubt but not when all reputable (Arab, Jew, and Other) sources agree on a fact. Nor does he mention that these villagers were compensated at the time. I am not saying that there was justification for that act, which is certainly debatable, but it is revealing that it was not mentioned. It robs several of the hard questions of balance

Other times, he ignores inconvenient evidence from highly reputable or significant sources. This is a pity because often I would have liked to see his assessment of the ignored evidence. One such piece of evidence that would go to the actual heart of his book was Israeli claims that they expelled the Arab inhabitants of Lyda or Lod (a town next to the one in central to his narrative and one he discusses on multiple occasions) only after they turned on the Israelis after having surrendered to them.

After that catalogue of problems, perhaps it is surprising that I honestly recommend this book as one of two that a person MUST read in order to understand the historical context of the conflict. The other, FYI, is O'Jerusalem which, I admit, leans a bit towards the Jewish side. I also do praise the author for attempting balance even if he does not always succeed. Ideally the two books should be read one after the other as they will give the reader a very balanced view of the problem with one leaning a little towards the Arabs while the other leans a little towards the Jews.

The Lemon Tree is a griping, if flawed, personal account of the struggle that continues to have terrible ramifications 60 years after the UN voted to create a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine.

*The Jewish population of the region were commonly referred to as "Palestinians" or "Palestinian Jews" until the creation of the Jewish State in 1948, at which point they began to be referred to as Israelis. Sorry about the nitpick, but terminology is important.
72 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FROM A LEMON SAPLING A MIGHTY ___?___ MAY GROW July 19 2006
By charles falk - Published on
Sandy Tolan's THE LEMON TREE encapsulates the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma better than anything I've read to date. It does so by telling the true story of two families who occupied and loved the same house in the West Bank town of Ramla: the Palestinian Khairis who built it and lived in it up until 1948 and the Bulgarian Jewish Eshkenazis who lived in it from 1948 until 1984. It is the perfect metaphor for the intractable problem of two peoples who have historical claims to the same piece of real estate.

Tolan's central figures are Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi who meet for the first time in the aftermath of the Six Day War and maintain a tenuous friendship into the 21st century. His narrative has a distinctly novelistic style. (In fact another Amazon reviewer refers to it as "a trashy, bitter novel") Tolan begins by introducing the reader to Bashir's and Dalia's parents in the 1930's and describing the societies in which they lived. As with Austen or Tolstoi, one absorbs social, historical, and political context while trying to guess where the story is leading.

For example, I learned in passing that Axis member Bulgaria did the best job of any nation in Europe of protecting its Jewish population from the Nazi death camps. One also encounters future leaders of Israel and of Fatah in unexpected places in Tolan's narrative. The order to expel the Arab inhabitants of Lydda and Ramla during the 1948 War was given by Lt. Col. Yitzhak Rabin. Abu Jihad, Arafat's right hand, who helped launch the first Intifada, was among the children expelled from Ramla.

THE LEMON TREE is not a feel-good book. Other reviewers have drawn hopeful conclusions from the relationship of Bashir and Dalia and from the planting of a new lemon tree at the house in Ramla. I am less sanguine.

Bashir Khairi, trained as a lawyer, has spent most of his adult life in Israeli prisons or in exile. The prison in Ramla where he was incarcerated was built on an olive grove which had belonged to his family for twelve generations. Bashir's conviction that the land of Israel and Palestine should be transformed into a single, secular, democratic state has few supporters among Palestineans or anywhere else in the world. Dalia continues to act on the belief that individuals behaving with good will can begin to heal the wounds that Israelis and Palestinians have inflicted on each other and upon themselves. Neither approach seems to offer a great deal of hope at the moment.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lemon Tree Dec 11 2006
By Mark Galper - Published on
"The Lemon Tree", a is a very compelling book about the Middle East conflict. Sandy Tolan presents a comprehensive history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with meticulous documentation of sources at the end of the narrative.

The history is weaved around the personal stories of two families who lived in the same house, and specifically two individuals in those families. We are first introduced to Bashir, whose father built the house in the town of El-Ramla and which his family occupied until they were forced out by Israeli soldiers in 1947.

we then meet Dalia, the daughter of Bulgarian parents who emigrated to Israel in 1948, and who lived in the house from 1948 on.

Following the 6 Day War in 1967, Bashir travels from Ramallah, where his family now lives, to Ramla to see the house, and is greeted by Dalia, who, after hesitating a moment, invites him in. This first encounter spawns a life-long relationship between the two, despite their ideological and political differences, and despite the widely divergent paths that their lives take.

The Lemon Tree is a powerful book. As a critical but strong supporter of Israel, I felt that the author sometimes shifted the sentiment in favor of the Palestinian cause, giving somewhat short thrift to Israel's legitimate security concerns, and to the dark policy choices it must often face given the fact that it is a tiny country surrounded by hostile nations and peoples. Nonetheless, it is difficult for even the most ardent Zionist to condone some of the tactics used by Israel to try to quell the social and political unrest both within and outside of its borders.

In many ways, The Lemon Tree is a disturbing book, insofar as it sometimes leaves the reader feeling that the chasm between the two sides will never be bridged. So long as the Palestinians insist on the right to return to the lands which they once occupied, even at the expense of dismantling the Jewish state and uprooting those who now occupy the houses and lands once belonging to Palestinian Arabs, peace seems virtually impossible to achieve.

In any event, despite the fact that the book tends to justify and rationalize the violent actions of the Palestinians fighting for their perceived rights, while taking a condemnatory view towards Israeli actions, the chief heroine of this book is Dalia, who remains a voice of compassion, empathy and reason in a sea of madness. It is a book well worth reading.
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