The Red Couch: The Lemon Tree Introduction



How does one begin to talk about something as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Where do you even begin? Do you take a side?

Or do you start with a story and let the two sides speak for themselves?

This is journalist Sandy Tolan’s approach in The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. In the opening pages, we meet Bashir, Dalia, and the beloved lemon tree. Dalia, a Bulgarian Jew whose parents immigrated to Israel when she was a baby, lives in the house Bashir’s Palestinian family was forced to abandon in 1948. They are irrevocably united, in spite of their differences. We learn their respective stories, as well as the history of the conflict. We get the Big Picture, as well as the on-the-ground reality.

Before we enter their story, it’s important we take a look at what we believe about Israel and Palestine. You might not know much about the conflict or you might have a firm opinion on the matter. Maybe you feel like you’re missing key pieces to the puzzle and you’re not sure where you land.

That’s where I found myself when I started The Lemon Tree. I’ve never been entirely sure what to believe when it comes to this conflict.

I am a child of the 80s and as such, I remember a Jews for Jesus program that would come on after watching The Flying House or Davy and Goliath. Usually the TV would be shut off after our show was done but occasionally my parents got sidetracked and I would watch, even though I didn’t understand much of the content or its references to Zion. TV was TV, after all.

Until I started reading a series a few years later.

I devoured Brock and Bodie Thoene’s Zion Covenant series and promptly started the Zion Chronicles series. The latter series took place during Israel’s statehood in 1948 and centered on the Zionist movement. I read these books over two decades ago so my memory of the various plot points is hazy. While there might have been a Palestinian-Israeli friendship or even star-crossed lovers, the series focused on the plight of the Jews.

Bill_Clinton,_Yitzhak_Rabin,_Yasser_Arafat_at_the_White_House_1993-09-13Photo Source

A couple of years after I finished the series, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles. I still have the Chicago Tribune front page emblazoned with the photograph of those two men shaking hands, with Bill Clinton benevolently standing by. It was a big deal, even if it didn’t solve the problem.

In the years since, I’ve read newspaper articles and seen reports of the continuing struggle. The bombs, the killings, the terror. The coverage, especially where the church is concerned, is often biased in favor of Israel, turning a blind eye toward the way Israel has itself retaliated against Palestine and even ignoring Palestine’s wishes.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate grievances and needs spanning decades. The people have inherited a legacy of unfulfilled dreams. No matter which side, they are all longing for home. There aren’t any easy solutions.

How do we pull back the layers of a long-stemming conflict? Taking a page from January’s book Disunity in Christ, how do we see people as people, instead of a group? How do we encourage peace and reconciliation amidst so much pain and heartache?

The song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” That’s why we have to examine our own attitudes and biases. That’s why we must choose to first listen, just as you’ll see Bashir and Dalia did.

The Lemon Tree is our chance to listen. As you read,  consider what their story means to you. What will you learn about the conflict in the Holy Land? What does it mean for your neighbors, for your city?

Bashir and Dalia’s story shows us it’s possible to agree to disagree. We don’t have to have the same opinions to love one another.

I pray for those in Israel and Palestine. I will pray we all find our lemon trees.

I will pray we remember love is greater than hate and love never fails.

Come back Wednesday, Feb. 25 for our discussion post with Amy Peterson. Join the Facebook group to share quotes and discuss the book throughout the month.

The Nightstand at SheLoves Magazine

*Recommended by Alia Joy, Kelley Nikondeha, and Amy Peterson

Are you reading The Lemon Tree with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.

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


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Leigh Kramer
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee, followed by San Francisco, quit steady job as a social worker to chase her dreams of writing, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.
Leigh Kramer

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  1. Alia_Joy says:

    I just got it and can’t wait to dig in. I’ve read a little about this but honestly not enough to have a firm grasp on the issues. I’ve found myself distanced from some very extreme opinions I’ve been around in different circles and rather than engage, I’ve pulled away. I’m hoping this book opens that dialogue back up for me because some of the hate filled things I’ve heard make me aware how much it’s needed. Even if it’s just praying for wisdom, peace, and reconciliation.

  2. says:

    I have so much to learn and can’t wait to finish reading the book! Also, is there anyone local in the San Francisco area who wants to read and discuss it in person with me?

  3. Saskia Wishart says:

    I have been looking forward to reading this one

  4. Sandy Hay says:

    I have always been fascinated with people and cultures. This book has me hooked. I have a visual that’s a bit older…Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Although not quite the same as Rabin and Arafat, it is the same part of the world. I don’t think I’ll ever understand. I’m a white, American, could I. Yet I am regularly drawn into studying and reading about conflict within cultures all over the world. To better known all God’s children.

    • I’m glad you’re hooked on The Lemon Tree, Sandy! It’s so interesting to hear about other peoples’ impressions of this conflict and what they remember over the years.

  5. I just finished chapter one and am so glad you chose this book! It’s reminding me a lot of the Behind the Beautiful Forevers, one of my favorites last year. My view on Israel-Palestine shifted when I lived in Paris. Being surrounded in a country who supported the “other side” didn’t so much open up discussions (I’m not much of a debater) but helped me view things from a different perspective. As Tolan mentioned in the introduction, the way we learn is through stories. I’m looking forward to hearing these stories through this book.

    • It reminded me of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, too! Fun fact: we also read that one in February. So interesting to hear how living in Paris shaped your view.


  1. […] years ago, we read The Lemon Tree on the Red Couch together. Here are the Introduction and Discussion […]

  2. […] will be a great companion to The Lemon Tree, which we read in 2015. You can read the introductory post and the discussion […]

  3. […] learn more about The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, please read the introductory post. Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more […]

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