A friend who is now working with people in the West Bank and Jerusalem recently recommended The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan so I went to the library and checked it out. The author portrayed this region’s recent history in such a way — and with human faces — that, at times, I found myself imagining that I lived there and experienced those events for myself. Many times I was struck with how sad the situation was and how little I knew about it previously. The author gave me a much better understanding of both sides as he presented Dalia Eshkenazi’s story of how she came from Bulgaria with her Jewish family and ended up living in the Khairi house and Bashir Khairi’s story of how he came to be part of the resistance, fighting for the Palestinians’ right of return after his family was expelled from al-Ramla.

The two met when Bashir went to visit the house his family had left when he was six, and Dalia, a young woman at that time, allowed Bashir and his cousins to tour it. A friendship formed and the two kept in touch somewhat despite nearly a quarter of Bashir’s life being spent in Israeli prisons. It was interesting to hear Dalia and Bashir discuss their points of view. Two things that stand out from those talks — one from Bashir when he politely asked Dalia why she and the other Jews could not simply go back where they came from (meaning Europe). The other from Dalia when she pointed out that the longing for the land that the Palestinians taught their children was similar to what the Jews felt towards their ancient land for the centuries that they were in exile.

From this book I saw how Arab nations turned on Arabs. I was amazed when I read how King Hussein from Jordan asked for Israeli air support in its fight against the Palestinians (aided by the Syrians) when the Palestinian guerrillas fought the Jordanians on “Black September” (Palestinian word for that event.) I learned about the formation of several Palestinian resistance groups including the PLO and Hamas which is often in the news when we hear about terrorist organizations on this side of the world. Shocking was when I read how Ariel Sharon allowed Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen into two Palestinian refugee camps where men, women and children were killed during a quest for revenge. The book said Israel even “launched night flares to illuminate the militias’ search” (pg. 204)! Just from this one incident, I better understand why my Arab friends sat in disbelief and anger when United States President George W. Bush referred to Sharon earlier this year by saying: “My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He’s a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.” Bush got the “warrior” part right, but “man of peace” for the person critics dubbed “the Butcher of Beirut”? Hmmmm.

I have several notable quotes from the book that I want to share eventually, but this is long enough for one post. This was a great book and shared a lot of the recent history of the region in an interesting way.