This month, on May 14, the State of Israel turns sixty years old–no easy anniversary.
The occasion calls our attention (again) to important political and moral issues that have been and probably will remain the most intractable of those faced during our lifetimes. In remembrance that we are heirs of a divided world, in May we rightly renew our commitment to direct our gaze and prayers toward the Middle East.
Here’s a book I wish a friend had recommended to me even sooner than he did: The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by journalist Sandy Tolan (Bloomsbury, 2006). It’s the true story of Dalia and Bashir–she a daughter of Bulgarian Jews who settled in Ramla in 1948; he a son of the Arab man who in al-Ramla (as the Arabs call the city) built the house that would become Dalia’s. To understand their unlikely friendship and the choices they make, we need to understand their histories. The Lemon Tree puts human faces on a messy and contested narrative.
The book does not intend to serve easy answers. It offers an overview of the history of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples as it brings readers to dwell alongside just a few of the lives that stand in the currents of longstanding hopes and hostilities. No book about this conflict will please everyone; ideologues of different stripes will feel that their accounting of the past has been misrepresented. But if you have time for only one book to educate you on the history and the issues and to enlarge your sensitivity to the depth and complexity of the Middle East’s pain, this could be the one.