Monday, June 18 , 2018, 1:25 am | Fair 53º

 
 
 
 

Karen Telleen-Lawton: Sustainable Peace and ‘The Lemon Tree’

A unique relationship mirrors the current state of the Palestine-Israel crisis

I just returned from my fourth trip to Israel and Palestine, in possession of the triple crown of autographs for Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree. This nonfiction book centers on a house in present-day Ramla, Israel: a comely Jerusalem stone bungalow with a lemon tree in back. It was built by a Palestinian family in 1936 and was loved and lived in until 1948, when the town was emptied at gunpoint of its native inhabitants in favor of Holocaust survivors.

The displaced Palestinian family was Bashir Khairi’s, who was 5 when his family was forced out. The Jewish family was Dalia Eshkenazi Landau’s, who was a baby when her parents escaped Nazi Bulgaria, emigrated to newborn Israel and were offered the just-emptied house. The Lemon Tree opens the Pandora’s box of Palestinian-Israeli conflict by chronicling the unique relationship that develops between Khairi and Landau as adults. They take advantage of their shared love of a home to try to envision a shared homeland for their future.

I garnered the author’s autograph in 2008, when he participated in UCSB’s Taubman Symposia in Jewish Studies. Tolan spoke inside Campbell Hall, crowded with students and community members. He gave voice to the complexity of issues that disallow pegging any Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Jew or Christian with a standard set of viewpoints.

In 2009, I arranged for my group of Christians on a Holy Land pilgrimage to meet with Landau and visit The Lemon Tree house. She was gracious and well-spoken, answering our questions frankly and warmly.

She spoke about the preschool for Arab Israeli children, called Open House, that she established when she inherited the house. An activist for peace, Landau is against the Israeli settlements, which she sees as obstacles. She also calls herself a Zionist because she believes that a Jewish state is the only way to protect Jews from future discrimination.

This trip, our group from five Christian parishes in three states were thrilled to meet with both Landau and Khairi. Landau arrived at our guest house the Friday eve of Israeli Independence Day, equally mourned by Palestinians as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day. She included us in her Shabbat celebration — the first for most of us. When she learned we were visiting Khairi the following day, she wrote him a kind note to deliver.

Khairi, 69, is the epitome of a kind elder, though he continues to be subjected to imprisonments and interrogations. Reading Landau’s note, he said, “She has an extraordinary conscience. She offered me back the house because it released her conscience from having a house belonging to someone else.”

“Dalia was willing to sell and give me money, or rent and give me rent,” he said. “My reaction was that the house represented Palestine and Palestine was not for sale or rent. I suggested this house go for Arab children and be called ‘Dalia Kindergarten for Arab Children’ to appreciate and mark her high-class humanitarian position.”

Landau supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This is the official U.S. position despite the Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza that put to question its feasibility. Khairi disagrees.

“I still back a one-state democracy for both, with everyone having the same rights and duties,” he told us. “I believe this is the best guarantee for future peace living together. Palestinian land is available for all — Christians, Muslims, Jews — all can live here. We have previously. Thoughts that we can’t live together on one land — this is a shortsighted vision that doesn’t serve peace.”

In the microcosm of The Lemon Tree, Landau and Khairi mirror the current state of the Palestine-Israel crisis. Yet like my methodical accumulation of the triple-crown in autographs, I see progress. Their story is unique, but their shared humanity and desire for a just solution are not. The Khairis and the Landaus are legion, and they will find a solution.

I see changes in the United States, too. At the same time relentless Israeli wall-building continues to blight the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — at the same time Israeli settlers grab Palestinian water and mountaintops — a growing number of Americans are willing to open the Pandora’s box. Many are willing to let in the light by listening to all sides.

The darkness was unsustainable. Let there be light.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations supporting sustainability. Graze her writing and excerpts from Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon at www.CanyonVoices.com.

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