I will be honest with you, I’ve never read a book which was both so heart-wrenching, and also at the same time heart-warming as this one, the story of two families, one Palestinian, one Israeli who at different times lived in the same house in the late 20th century, and by something of a miracle, became friends, particularly the eldest son Bashir Khairi and the daughter Dalia Eshkenazi, from a Bulgarian Jewish family who immigrated to the Holy Land in the late 1940s when that became possible through the efforts of David Ben Gurion, the U.N., and various western nations. Here below are the two principles that this carefully researched non-fiction, award winning book is mainly about…
Bashir has been in and out of prisons for being suspected by the Israelis as aiding and abetting terrorism, something he denies. Dalia for her part has worked hard to help make possible a more human, a more humane approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Bashir does not believe Jews have an inalienable right to be in the Holy Land, whereas Dalia does, even a Biblical right to be there (and I agree with her), so on that point the problem becomes insoluble. These are profound matters of conscience.
I personally found the story which takes us from the later 1940s until 2005 (and I can tell you that in 2021-22 Bashir was back in yet another sort of detention without and formal charges filed). The author of this Award Winning book Sandy Nolan, with copious notes seems to me to be imminently fair in his treatment of both sides of this horrible dilemma, but has received extreme criticism from ultra-Zionists. (see https://www.meforum.org/campus-watch/20552/sandy-tolan-the-lemon-tree-bias) which I find largely unconvincing, though it is clear that there are a couple of factual errors in this book, which makes no major difference to the larger truths found in it. There is more than enough inhumanity, murder, unjust killing of civilians and even children on both sides of this conflict to make one despair of any solution short of the Second Coming. I would recommend ever single Jewish, Christian or Muslim person in America make this book required reading if you want to understand the history and reasons why the bloodbath keeps happening, even now as we speak. If you read the early sections on the 1948 or 1967 war, it will sound strangely like an account of something ripped from the headlines of the events of the last couple of months in that country. As the French would say “plus change, plus la meme chose.”
I must confess that I myself have been too naive about the long term and underlying causes of what’s going on in the Holy Land now. This book is a good cure for that, and a cure as well for indifference. What happens there affects America and the rest of the world, and frankly war crimes abound. And it is interesting to read about the whole history of Netanyahu’s involvement in these various struggles, not to mention the story of when and how Hamas arose in the first place. Terrorism is terrorism whoever perpetrates it, and Israel does have a right to exist, but there needs as well to be a proper Palestinian state, but how, and where, and when? I do not have any obvious or quick solutions that haven’t already been tried. And even if it were possible to eliminate Hamas altogether, another terrorist group, fueled by hate and wanting revenge would surely arise. Violence, especially against civilians and innocent parties, just breeds more hate and more violence. In an endless cycle.
What is notable in this book is that Christians and Christianity are not even on the margins of the story, with rare exceptions. But even if they were, I’m not sure it would make much difference. God alone is capable of fixing this tragic and broken situation. It seems sadly the case that there is no room for forgiveness in the land where Jesus the Jew made clear that forgiveness, a commitment to non-violence and even love of one’s enemies was what was required to break the cycle of violence.