Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Lemon Tree - a true story of two people drawn into the politics of their homeland(s)

Amber Leberman of The Lutheran staff in Chicago posted a review of The Lemon Tree on the magazine's blog page -

"The Lemon Tree"

In 2003, I had the opportunity to visit Israel and the West Bank with a delegation of fellow ELCA communicators. Our group was led by Eric Shafer, who was then-director of ELCA Communication and Mary Jensen, who was, at the time, an associate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land -

We visited Dalia Landau, an Israeli woman, at her home in West Jerusalem.

Over tea and biscuits, Dalia told us her story — how her family narrowly escaped being sent to a Nazi concentration camp and later fled Bulgaria to Israel, where they moved into a beautiful stone home with a lemon tree in the back yard. They were told the home had been abandoned by its Arab occupants.

She also told that one day while home alone from college, the doorbell rang. On the other side of the door stood Bashir Khairi, a young Arab man who had taken the bus from Ramallah to visit the home where he had been born.

She told us about the joys and challenges of her friendship with Bashir. She told us how their friendship was strained when Bashir was jailed for participating in a supermarket bombing in a Jewish neighborhood.

She told us how she (with Bashir's blessing) turned the home into a preschool for the Arab children of the neighborhood and a place where Israelis and Arabs could meet for dialogue.

And what struck me most about Dalia was her assertion that Israelis and Palestinians were the "significant others" of each other — that their futures were inextricably woven together.

Meeting Dalia left me wanting to know more about the story. I had no idea that Sandy Tolan of Homelands Productions had produced a radio story about it. It was by chance that I heard it one afternoon on Chicago Public Radio. (You can hear it too, at the Third Coast Audio Festival archive -

Now "The Lemon Tree" is a book, also by Tolan.

Tolan tells the story as compellingly as if it were a novel. It's not. It's the true stories of two people drawn into the politics of their homeland(s). Tolan provides chapter-by-chapter notes about his sources and a thorough bibliography.

If you want to know more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book is a great place to start. It weaves history and politics into a narrative that makes the reader care about the people involved.

If you read only one non-fiction book this year, make it "The Lemon Tree."

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To find out more about the Open House, the preschool and community center in Ramle, visit

To read blog postings on The Lutheran's web page, got to

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