A single lemon tree stood as a perfect metaphor for the sometimes terrible struggle to find human empathy and hope.
Planted in 1936, the tree straddled two volatile countries, and provided shade and fragrant fruit for two proud families, one Palestinian and one Israeli.
I finished Sandy Tolan’s exhaustively researched book about the tree, and the families who loved it, last week, but the story has stayed with me.
Written in 2006, the Lemon Tree remains critically relevant today, both due to the continued conflict in the Middle East, and the universal struggles of the human heart. Its themes of mutual witness and empathy for someone you respect but with whom you also disagree on profound political levels resonates here, across the world, in 2017.
The book follows the intertwining stories of Bashir Khairi, an exiled Palestinian, Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, an Israeli immigrant from Bulgaria.
Until he is six-years old, Bashir lives with his family in a stone house his father built. Following World War II and the United Nations establishment of the state of Israel, Bashir and his family are forced out of the home and exiled. Bashir spends the next 70 years fighting for the right of return. To this day, he has not backed down, despite spending most of his adult life in prison.
Two months after the Khairis leave the house, an infant Dalia and her family move in, having narrowly escaped the holocaust in Bulgaria. She grows up there and, one day years later, finds herself home alone when 25-year old Bashir sneaks into the city with two of his cousins and knocks on her door.
That she opens it and invites him in surprises them both, and sets in motion a friendship that would inspire global respect, though neither has caved on his or her profound beliefs — Bashir, that all exiled Palestinians should be allowed to return home, and Dalia, that Zionists deserve their home in Israel.
Still, their friendship, which continues today, led to the development of Open House, a peace education center in Ramle, Israel based right in the stone house whose history they share.
I highly recommend this meticulously researched (65 pages of notes accompany the book) and beautifully written story.