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 Ashkenazi 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.
Tolan offers listeners an easy-to-follow journey through a maddeningly stubborn conflict that has infused global politics since the 1940s. Based on his 1998 NPR documentary, Tolan personalizes the Arab-Israeli conflict by tracing the intertwined lives of a Palestinian refugee named Bashir Al-Khairi and a Jewish settler named Dalia Eshkenazi Landau. The pair is connected through a stone home in Ramla, now part of Israel. Built in the 1930s by Bashir’s father, the Al-Khairi family was forced to flee during the violent formation of Israel in 1948. The Eshkenazis, Holocaust survivors from Bulgaria, became the new owners. After 1967’s Six Day War, Bashir showed up and Dalia invited him in and began an intense dialogue that’s lasted four decades. Tolan’s evenhanded narration imparts the passion of both sides without slipping into impassioned delivery. While at times his random emphasis of words makes for a slightly wavy cadence, his pronunciation of Arab and Jewish names and phrases is pleasingly authentic. One of Tolan’s most moving passages chronicles Dalia 20-mile trip to Ramallah to visit Bashir. Their seemingly simple conversation, rendered with just the right amount of heart, crystallizes and humanizes the positions of each side. The Lemon Tree is a clear-eyed and steady ride into deeply felt and ever-volatile territory. ~ Publisher Weekly