The Lemon Tree

By Sandy Tolan. Bloomsbury. $24.95.


In the city of Ramla, 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem, sits a limestone house that holds the histories of two families, one Palestinian, one Israeli. On July 11, 1948, following two months of bloody fighting in the wake of Israel’s declaration of statehood, the town’s Arab leaders surrendered to the Israeli army. Despite an agreement that its residents would be allowed to stay, six-year-old Bashir Khairi and his family were expelled from their home, joining the tens of thousands of Palestinians forced into Jordan’s West Bank.

Meanwhile,an infant named Dalia Eshkenazi and her parents had just arrived in Israel, part of the postwar wave of Jewish refugees eager to start new lives. When they were relocated to Ramla and told to choose one of the many vacant houses there, they picked a spacious one with a gate in the front and a lemon tree in the backyard—the Khairi home.

The Lemon Tree is not only an empathetic look at the struggles of these Holocaust survivors and Palestinian exiles, but a concise history of their competing claims for Israel and Palestine. The story of Dalia and Bashir’s first face-to-face meeting in 1967, and the remarkable four-decade friendship that has followed, illuminate the personal narratives at the heart of the conflict. Their friendship has never been easy, but both believe it is vital to their work to promote peaceful coexistence, which is centered around the house both call home. As Dalia tells Tolan, “Our enemy is the only partner we have.”

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