The Lemon Tree An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

Sandy Tolan

Bloomsbury USA




400 Pages



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A Church and Synagogue Library Association Rodda Award Nominee

In 1967, Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian twenty-five-year-old, journeyed to Israel, with the goal of seeing the beloved old stone house, with the lemon tree behind it, that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. To his surprise, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. On the stoop of their shared home, Dalia and Bashir began a rare friendship, forged in the aftermath of war and tested over the next thirty-five years in ways that neither could imagine on that summer day in 1967. Based on extensive research, and springing from his enormously resonant documentary that aired on NPR's Fresh Air in 1998, Sandy Tolan brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, suggesting that even amid the bleakest political realities there exist stories of hope and reconciliation.


Praise for The Lemon Tree

"A graceful, compassionate and unmuddied presentation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lives of an Arab and a Jew, strangers who forge a connection and a reconciliation while never veering from their passionate desires for a homeland."Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Quite simply the most important book I've read for ages . . . a handbook to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a narrative that captures its essence through tracing the connected lives of two extraordinary individuals. Literally the single work I'd recommend to anyone seeking to understand why the conflict remains unresolved, and why it continues to dominate the region."Time

"The affecting story of an unlikely truce, even a peace, between Palestinians and Israelis in contested territory. The symbolic center of radio documentarian Tolan's latest could not be simpler: In an old garden in the town Arabs call al-Ramla and Jews Ramla (neither name to be confused with the West Bank town of Ramallah, 20 miles away), a family cultivated a lemon tree that provided shade and refreshment for many years. When the Khairi family left al-Ramla, driven out in the Israeli War of Independence—a time Palestinians call Nakba, 'the catastrophe'—a family of Bulgarian Jews took over the property, which, as far as they knew, had been 'abandoned.' Drawing on interviews and oral histories, Tolan reconstructs the stories each family, Khairi and Eshkenazi, told about their respective displacements, the lands they left behind, those who died and were born. His book begins with the arrival of three young Palestinian men in Ramla shortly after the Six Day War; stopping at houses they had once lived in, they asked the new inhabitants whether they could step inside to see them. Only one woman, a Tel Aviv university student named Dalia Eshkenazi, assented. 'She knew,' writes Tolan, 'that it was not advisable in the wake of war for a young Israeli woman to invite three Arab men inside her house'; yet she did, and from that simple act, a sort of friendship evolved, even as events made Dalia more resolute in her defense of Israel and turned the oldest of the men, Bashir Al-Khairi, into a freedom fighter—or terrorist, if you will—in the Palestinian cause. Through broad sweeps of narrative going back and forward in time, Tolan's sensitively told, eminently fair-minded narrative closes with a return to that lemon tree and its promise of reconciliation. Humane and literate—and rather daring in suggesting that the future of the Middle East need not be violent."—Kirkus Reviews

"Tolan captures the Arab-Israeli struggle in this story of a house and the two families, first Palestinian and then Jewish, who successively lived in it. Members of both families came to know one another and to seek dialog between Arabs and Jews. This wonderful human story vividly depicts the depths of attachment to contested ground. An excellent choice for general readers."—Library Journal (starred review)

"The title of this moving, well-crafted book refers to a tree in the backyard of a home in Ramla, Israel. The home is currently owned by Dalia, a Jewish woman whose family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria. But before Israel gained its independence in 1948, the house was owned by the Palestinian family of Bashir, who meets Dalia when he returns to see his family home after the Six-Day War of 1967. Journalist Tolan traces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir and their families—all refugees seeking a home. As Tolan takes the story forward, Dalia struggles with her Israeli identity, and Bashir struggles with decades in Israeli prisons for suspected terrorist activities. Those looking for even a symbolic magical solution to that conflict won't find it here: the lemon tree dies in 1998, just as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stagnates. But as they follow Dalia and Bashir's difficult friendship, readers will experience one of the world's most stubborn conflicts firsthand."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Sandy Tolan

  • Sandy Tolan is the author of Me & Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-five Years Later. He has written extensively for magazines and newspapers, and has produced dozens of documentaries for National Public Radio and Public Radio International. He was a 1993 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an I. F. Stone Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches international reporting.