Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan (2006 DVD)
ISBN: 0788611933

At this point, the problems between Israeli Jews and Arab Muslims, and Arab Christians should come as no surprise to anyone.  Territory disputes and human rights violations shrouded beneath the guise of religion, tradition, and honor, has led to 70 years of animosity, tragedy, and occupation. It can be a real trial to see beyond these filters and see the people on the opposite side of the debate from you. But it doesn’t have to be that way, nor does it always end up there.

In the film Lemon Tree, based on the book by Sandy Tolan of the same name, Tolan tells the true story of two women, one Palestinian, one Israeli, who form a friendship while attempting to save a lemon grove that the Israeli government wants to destroy by uprooting all of the trees because the Israeli and her husband, the new Defense Minister, move next door.

However, the story is far deeper than the story of two women saving a simple tree grove. It is a story of war, displacement, friendship, betrayal. It is the story of three young Palestinian men looking one last time at the homes they were forced to abandon when they were forced out of their family homes during what they call “the catastrophe,” which partitioned Palestine to make a homeland for Jews fleeing the European Holocaust.   It is the story of a brave woman, a Tel Aviv university student, who let them in. It is the story of how their friendship both blossomed and turned each side more stringently towards the extremes, one in the defense of a newly created country called Israel and the other into a Palestinian freedom fighter, and both on the path toward a destiny neither saw coming.

And yet it is through that simple lemon tree that the hope for reconciliation and redemption find their heart and hope.

Hiam Abbass, who portrays the Palestinian widow, won an Israeli Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in this film. And it has been said that this stunning film cannot be fully understood nor appreciated on the first watch through, but requires a couple of viewings to fully grasp all that it provides. This film is less like lemon and more like an onion. Many layered and full of both brightness and tears.