Finding common ground
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at least in part a tragedy of unacknowledged similarities. On one side, you have a proud people forced out of their traditional homeland, ill-treated in their diaspora, desperate to regain and hold what they fervently believe is their land. And on the other, you have exactly the same thing. Yet that likeness has led not to mutual accommodation, but to unending violence. The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan, reduces the tragedy to two families and one house in a moving story of both grief and hope. Ahmad Khairi, a furniture-maker from a prominent clan, built the house in 1936 in a town where his family had lived since the 16th century. He, his wife Zakia and their eight children fled to Ramallah in the West Bank during the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel. Moshe and Solia Eshkenazi, refugees from Bulgaria who had barely escaped the Holocaust, moved into the empty house and raised their daughter Dalia there. The book focuses on the second generation, the inheritors of the strife: Dalia Eshkenazi and Bashir Khairi, Ahmad's oldest son. When the outcome of the Six-Day War in 1967 in effect opened the border between Israel and the West Bank, Bashir and two cousins sneaked across to visit their hometown. Some Israelis rebuffed them, but Dalia opened the door and invited them in, starting a tentative friendship. Both Dalia and Bashir turn out to be remarkable people, in very different ways. Dalia, a teacher, seeks reconciliation; Bashir becomes a well-known Palestinian nationalist lawyer perhaps even a terrorist. The two families are divided by politics, but continue to be drawn together by their common humanity. The lemon tree of the book's title, planted by the Khairis and nurtured by the Eshkenazis, becomes a poignant symbol of the relationship. Tolan, who first told this story in a public radio documentary, is admirably even-handed, alternating between the points of view of the two families and their respective nations. The book has no neat solution. But just as the Khairis and Eshkenazis learn each other's better qualities, we come to understand more about both sides. Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.