Through the story of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man (not romantic although I wanted it to be . . .), Sandy Tolman lays out the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dalia’s family came to the newly minted Israel with her family, refugees from Bulgaria, where they had survived World War II due to the grace of local officials who “suspended” a deportation order that, had it been executed, would have sent them to death camps.
Bashir’s father built a house in Al-Ramla, within what was to have been an Arab state under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan. Instead, after Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence and war between the Arabs and the Jews resulted in the capture of Al-Ramla for Israel, Bashir’s family was forced to leave. Dalia’s family claimed Bashir’s family home.
The two meet in 1967, after the June war that resulted in Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which paradoxically resulted in Palestinians being able to visit their old towns. When Bashir knocked at the gate of what had become Dalia’s home, she graciously invited him in to make himself at home.
The two families eventually become acquainted and the friendship that began then continues to this day.
The story could have been told as a heartwarming story of two families that somehow manage to transcend their histories. That’s not what happened. Dalia is an Israeli through and through and Bashir remains a displaced Palestinian, longing to return home.
The strength of this book lies in the meticulous telling of the feelings and the histories. For starters, the reader learns that the Soviet Union supported a two-state vision for Palestine over a binational democratic state for all the people of Palestine. The United Nations mediator who advocated for placing Al-Ramla in Jordan, a move that would have allowed Bashir’s family to return home, was assassinated by the Stern Gang, a Jewish militia. UN Resolution 194 declared in 1947 that Arab refugees should be permitted to return to their homes. In 1967 Resolution 242 would supplant that resolution, calling instead for acknowledgement of the integrity of “every State in the area”, which, decoded, meant foregoing the right of return. The United Nations having given up on a right of return, the Soviet Union and the United States supporting separate states, it is no wonder to me that Palestinians are so angry. It is this anger that Bill Clinton failed to grasp when he failed to get Yasser Afafat to agree to a peace plan in 2000.
In the paperback edition, 264 of the 362 pages constitute the narrative while the remaining third contains a bibliography, source notes and an index. You can listen to a NPR Fresh Air interview with Sandy Tolan here
No longer do I feel totally ignorant about why Palestinians are so angry. Thanks to Sandy Tolan, I get it.
(THE LEMON TREE book cover: NPR.org; photo of Dalia and Bashir – PBS.org)