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.
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.
- Sandy Tolan’s website, with interviews, a video, and additional resources on The Lemon Tree
- The Lemon Tree documentary, originally aired on NPR’s Fresh Air and inspired the book
- Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians– Gary M. Burg
- Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation– Naim Stifan Ateek
- A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation– Naim Stifan Ateek
- Tea With Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies Table: Our Journey Through the Middle East– Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis
- A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine– Mark Braverman
- Whose Promised Land?– Colin Chapman
- Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation– Marc Ellis
- Nothing More to Lose– Najwan Darwish
- Israel/Palestine 101 (video)
- History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Wikipedia
- Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Wikipedia
- Current coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Huffington Post
- Bereaved (stories and photos)– New York Times
Are you reading The Lemon Tree with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons