Friday, May 8, 2009

The Lemon Tree; Sandy Tolan: May 2009

I have just finished reading The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan, published by Quebecor World Fairfield in 2006. This is an account of the twentieth century history of Palestine and the creation of Israel. Because the author has chosen to write the story around a Jewish woman, Dalia, and an Arab man, Bashir, it resonates in a way that a factual history would not.

As events unfold, we see them through the eyes of Dalia and Bashir. Tolan puts the attitudes of both sides to those events into the mouths of characters, which makes the history much more meaningful. I always used to feel that something was being left out of the extremely extensive, factual and non-judgemental history I was taught at school. Now I know that it was this looking at it from all sides, and trying to understand how the people involved on both sides would be feeling about it all. It was this trying to understand the times when the events were taking place, and how different the times and people were from me.

Reading this book, we also see, and feel, the effects of the history of Palestine on the lives of individuals. Having followed the news media accounts of the happenings, and having read about the history, I didn't really learn anything new about the facts, but I do think that Tolan has written as objective an account as he could, and has clearly portrayed both sides to the story. It is good to look at anything from both sides, and there are two sides to this story. I am glad I don't have to try to bring any lasting solution to Palestine.

What did strike me was the tenacity of some Palestinians in holding on to the dream of "the right of return". This has been superceded by so many other events, one would think it would be obvious that it is only a dream. I would next ask who is benefitting from encouraging so many young, Arab men to waste their lives in terrorism, rather than in using these lives to build up the country they do have. To my mind, it is criminal to indoctrinate young children with the poison of hatred for another group: any group. It is criminal to train children to fight wars, rather than giving them spiritual weapons to fight the war of controlling the negative side of human nature. It is criminal to train them to destroy instead of create. What kind of people do this, and how does it benefit them?

Many people have been displaced from their birth places and their homes; like I, and my children were displaced from Africa, my adopted home, and where they were born, by events over which we had no control. We go on to make a new life for ourselves, realising that the world we left behind has disappeared anyway. Our memories are of a world that is no longer there, just as the Palestine before the creation of Israel is now only a dream. This is maturity; an acceptence of reality; a moving on into the future. There is no use in wishing it were not so, or hating those who caused the changes. This only hurts ourselves. In the case of Palestine, it hurts the young people to teach them to hold on to a distorted vision of a past that they didn't even know, and to hate the world that always changes with the times. Until these attitudes are replaced by healthier ones, there is very little hope for the future of the Middle East.

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