The Red Couch: The Lemon Tree Discussion

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To learn more about The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle Eastplease read the introductory post. Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more on the topic.

Mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and my eyes are bound to glaze right over.  Not only is it confusing – so many places, so many people, so many battles – and in many cases, two names for everything, an Israeli name and a Palestinian name!  I can’t keep it all straight.

If I’m honest, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to keep it all straight.  Then I might have to choose a side.  Then I might have to disagree with people I love.

My default has been to avoid the topic (something I’m well aware is born of my own privilege – not everyone can pretend like conflict in the Middle East doesn’t exist).  But when people bring up the Gaza Strip, or the West Bank, or the city of Jerusalem, faces get red. Jawlines tense up.  PTSD flares.  Old Testaments are opened.  Politics are invoked.

And then I’m like, “Let’s go watch an episode of Nashville, y’all!”

I suppose my natural tendency is to evade conflict as a way to maintain peace.  I don’t want people to get angry or riled up, so I sweep it under the rug.  Pretend it doesn’t exist. Let’s find something we agree on to discuss. If we don’t agree about it, we just shouldn’t talk about it.  Right?

But what if that’s exactly the wrong strategy for peacemaking?

As I read the story of Bashir and Dalia’s relationship, what convicted me most was the way they treated each other even as they vehemently disagreed on the most foundational truths. Dalia, describing her first visit with Bashir in his home in the West Bank, is struck by the “complete disagreement across a seemingly unbridgeable gulf, combined with the establishment of a bond through a common history, in a house where she felt utterly protected and welcomed” (161). It left me wondering – when have I ever engaged my enemy, or even someone who felt completely “other,” with warmth, generosity, open ears, an open home?

In a fragmented, divisive, and violently religious world, where in the space of a month Coptic Christians are beheaded in Libya, a young American woman dies in a Jordanian airstrike, and three Muslim students are shot and killed in their Chapel Hill apartment, engaging those who are not like “us”- and engaging in the right way – might be more valuable than simply attempting to avoid conflict. In fact, it might be the only way forward.

I don’t want to co-opt the story of The Lemon Tree and make it about me, but I do want to learn from it.  I want to let it be a lens to my own world.  When my siblings or parents disagree with me on a point of theology, what if we made some lemonade and talked about it instead of avoiding the topic?  When a church congregation splinters into two and engages in lawsuits over property disputes, what might they learn from Bashir and Dalia’s property dispute and the way it was handled?

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.  We cannot merely avoid conflict; to see change, to be peacemakers, we must engage those with whom we disagree. We must engage with love, listening, and conviction, in personal relationships with those who are not like us, and in our own homes and our most intimate relationships. Like Bashir and Dalia, I want to listen to your battle story, to understand the wounds you keep hidden like Bashir’s hand in his pocket.  I want to understand why you see the world the way you do, and I want to listen without picking up my weapons or weaponizing my own words in response.


Questions to Consider:

  • Can personal connection lead to peace despite ideological differences?
  • How do we break a cycle of pain and retaliation?
  • Dalia says that as she learned from Bashir, her love for her country was “losing its innocence…” – Has your country-love lost its innocence? Does it need to?
  • What if your certain assurance of your status as a beloved child of God gave you the ability to listen to those with whom you disagree without fear, without combativeness, without the need to be right? What might that look like?
  • Who/what have you been afraid to address?
  • What rights are you willing to surrender in order to bring peace?
  • What else stood out to you from the book?

REMINDER:

Our March book is Found: A Story of Grace, Questions, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. Come back Wednesday, March 4 for the introduction to the book. The discussion post will be Wednesday, March 25. For ongoing discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Amy Peterson
Amy is a writer, ESL instructor, and Assistant Director of Honors at Taylor University. A wanderer at heart, she is practicing the discipline of stability on two acres of farmland in rural Indiana with her husband and two small children, as well as some pesky cats, beloved chickens, and a hive of bees. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, baking, mystery novels, road trips, french press coffee, and television.
Amy Peterson

Latest posts by Amy Peterson (see all)

Amy Peterson
  • Great reflection, Amy! I found myself connecting lessons to my own life. I think that’s the sign of good storytelling – taking something seemingly unrelated to my own world and making me rethink my day-to-day. But, what a challenge! How am I finding that balance of listening and engaging? How am I using my privilege to help, not to hurt? It’s a humbling task…. This was a powerful book – one I’ll be mulling over for quite some time.

    (And, I wrote a reflection, too: https://annierim.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/the-weight-of-privilege/)

    • Looking forward to reading your post, Annie! I so appreciate seeing you pop up in the Red Couch comments and hearing about how these books are making you think.

    • Thanks, Annie. I enjoyed your reflection, too!

  • Saskia Wishart

    “We cannot merely avoid conflict; to see change, to be peacemakers, we must engage those with whom we disagree. We must engage with love, listening, and conviction, in personal relationships with those who are not like us, and in our own homes and our most intimate relationships. ” this line Amy, I can’t tell you how relevant it was for me this week. Thank you for writing this sincere and wise reflection.

    • Thank you, Saskia! As a perpetual conflict avoider, it’s a hard line to write, and to act on. But I do think it’s important.

  • Yvonne Shao

    I was struck by two recurring thoughts as I read this book. The first was that the situation is incredibly tangled. Colonialism, abuse of power, lack of foresight, greed, poor planning, cowardice, and bad communication all contributed to the complicated situation that we have today. Resolution to this geographic, political and cultural quagmire looks remote, if not impossible. My second thought is that I have no idea how to respond to this on a personal level, but now that I’ve read The Lemon Tree I can begin to be aware of the circumstances in my life that resemble the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

    This book was a pleasure to read, and even as the issues go on, I am happy to know there are people like Dalia and Bashir.

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