Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Lemon Tree, Very Pretty...
"...and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat." Folk song written by Will Holt and made popular by Peter, Paul, & Mary.
Most impressive about The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan, was that many in our group read the book! This was not a page turner but a history. The wars and constant intermittent terrorism and revenge terrorism, strife, and disagreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians were grueling to read and imagine living through. The author slowly and steadily narrated historical events in a chronological direction but skipped around a lot, with long convoluted tangents, to explain relationships between events. Several of us felt that the author did a lot of research and incorporated every bit of it into the book. (As a "mature" book club, we have noticed this in other books.) Several of us suggested that an outline or timeline at the beginning of the book would help readers get/keep their bearings. Cindy said that watching the Ted Talk by Dalia before reading the book was helpful. Dalia's Ted Talk Clearly this book is an important historical record and will be useful for anyone studying the history of the Jews and the Palestinians in Israel.
Lydia gave us some background on the author, a prize-winning NPR journalist, and then opened the discussion asking whether anyone had been to Israel. Peggy lived in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and said that Israel was blacked out on the maps there. Carla had friends who were in Saudi in the early 2000s who said that the Saudis still don't recognize Israel as a sovereign nation. So, I was thinking about this and decided to look at a map - guess what: the Unites States, including Google, does not recognize a Palestinian nation. You might have known this, but I was surprised to see maps with Israel written on them as the country, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip listed and colored a contrasting color but no mention of "Palestine." Dennis brought some statistics to our meeting: Williamson County, TX has 2940 square kilometers and 443,000 people. The west bank is not twice as big as Williamson County but has a population of 2,623,000; and the tiny Gaza at 365 square kilometers has a population of 1,700,000. The math corroborates what we see in films and on the news about crowded Palestinian cities.
The sweet fruit of The Lemon Tree is the Dalia/Bashir longstanding friendship of respect and care. In addition to the story of their shared home, The Lemon Tree offers a balanced an unbiased account of the history of the two warring peoples. None of us found the book to be biased, but discussion of this topic brought out other biases. Carla noted that in the United States, we have been exposed to a pro-Israeli bias for many years. Mary added that Americans learn an Israel bias in history at school. Janice found that the book helped to put a human face on the Palestinians, who were taken from their homes and not allowed to return. Peggy noticed on the video that Bashir said that although the Palestinians were forced to leave their homes, the Israeli children learn in school that the Palestinians fled.
Then we started talking about the long-term history of this contested region. Dennis said that under a very strong rule by the Ottomans, the factions coexisted. Carla reminded us that that the religious groups shared Jerusalem peacefully before the British division of the country and began fighting soon after. There was a suggestion that the British division was based on the economics of oil. Ken compared the division in Israel with the partitioning of Germany. Dennis noted that the settlers in the United States ran the Native Americans off of their homelands, and Frank gave the example of the internment camps that the United States Government moved the Japanese to, taking them from their homes during World War II.
Marina, who is rumored to have read the book in the few days between the Round Rock New Neighbors coffee on Wednesday and our discussion the following Monday, brought up the question as to how the Jews, who have such a long history of persecution and who had moved to Israel in great numbers directly after being taken from their homes in Germany, could turn around and treat the Palestinians in the way they themselves had been treated. A poignant quote was mentioned: The Jewish settlement of Israel is thought of as "...a people without a land settling a land without people..." but the reality was that the Palestinians were there. This brought us back around to the homeland question that is at the root of the conflict: the Israelis and Palestinians both need a homeland and both have strong religious roots in Jerusalem.
The situation includes numerous failed attempts at reconciliation, recognition, cooperation, and negotiation. The Israelis and Palestinians are divided among themselves as to potential solutions. As Frank said, suicide bombers every few weeks is not helping anyone; and, as Dennis added, governments blowing up leaders and their families has not helped bring about peace, either. Our discussion helped to crystallize the history explained in The Lemon Tree and to educate all of us about the current situation and the deep problems of the region. Lydia brought the conversation toward a close by mentioning Bashir's cousin's opinion that waiting is better than warring. Janice voiced a hope is that future generations will give up some of the absolutes that the leaders of the past 60 years have held onto so tightly. And there is new hope! New peace talks are in the news!
Note: Dennis recommends another balanced book for additional reading on this topic: From Beirut to Jerusalem, by Thomas L. Friedman