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In the film The Lemon Tree, the fictional Israeli Minister of Defense, Israel Navon, comments to his wife that the problem of Arab and Israeli coexistence is 3000 years old and no one has found a solution to the problem and he cannot either. This sense that relations between Israelis and Palestinians are inherently conflictual make pathways to peaceful coexistence seem highly unlikely. Yet the film itself, along with contemporary writings by leading Israeli and Palestinian thinkers and writers show that there is reason for hope. In particular, the film shows that perhaps the tiny glimpses of light, in quick flashes of change that come from entrenched warfare, are openings to build upon.
There are considerable challenges to reaching coexistence among Palestinians and Israelis, which include apathy and loss of reality and institutionalized racism and all that entails. David Grossman's arguments about apathy are the most disturbing and problematic for the future. Israelis and Palestinians are children of war and might just be programmed/doomed to live this life since it is all that they know. Worse yet, it is their reality now (Grossman 126). As Mrs. Navon argues in the film after her husband says to her there is nothing he can do to save the 150 year-old grove that butts up against his property from destruction - the life's blood of Mrs. Zidane, the Palestinian owner - is "ignore reality - cut the trees" (Lemon Tree). A point that Mrs. Zidane herself makes to the Supreme Court when she hears the verdict, to cut her trees to 30 cm: "My trees are real. My life is real. You are already building a wall around us. Isn't that enough?" (Lemon Tree). Apathy has led to a distortion of reality that might be difficult to see should peace even come.
Moreover, Grossman states that there is a "samadin of ignorance," men and women, on both sides, who have abandoned hope and live disconnected to the reality of the occupation, of their complicity in it and the apparent inability to do anything about it. In the film we see everyday people in their roles participating in the brutality of occupation when workingmen come and fence up Mrs. Zidane's grove; soldiers at roadblocks show them no sympathy when they have papers and need to get to court (Lemon Tree). Or, as Shehadeh describes an Israeli interrogator broke the arm of a fourteen year-old shepherd who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Shehadeh 165). The end result is that the brutality of occupation, the single-minded ridiculousness of lobbing stones at bulldozers and tanks gets lost on both sides because the conflict is the reality, the apathy has set in and no one can see a different reality for themselves or each other.
In part, the institutionalized racism makes that links into the fear guides actions. David Grossman suggests that Israel has been taken over "by madness and coarseness, violence and racism" (Grossman 123). In the film, Mrs. Navon, who is an innocent in this mess, has guns pointed at her as if she should be feared (Lemon Tree). Grossman argues that there is a profound basis for it. At the checkpoints on the bridges soldiers degrade Palestinians coming over the bridge from Jordan into the West Bank making them stand too long, touching their bodies searching for weapons, ripping the toys from children's arms and taking the dirty diapers off of swaddling babies. All because there have been bombs smuggled in at every turn (Grossman 165-166). Or, as the film notes, 20,000 terrorist attacks against Israelis in one year (Lemon Tree).
So the Palestinians seethe in anger constructing identities for all Israelis as occupiers and racists as they watch their loved ones endure what Shehadeh calls Israeli "rudeness, cynicism, idiocy, arrogance" (Grossman 154). Israelis too seethe in anger and puff up with power as they construct identities of Arabs as bomb throwing maniacs incapable of government. All the while, as Grossman argues, Israel is flexing its military muscles just to display its "powerlessness and fragility" (Grossman 121) because of institutionalized racism. Arabs are the ones who are occupied and can be treated with indignities by the occupier, yet Israelis cannot see how the occupation has also corrupted them, stolen their morality (Grossman 148). Mrs. Navon notes in the film when she is at the press conference about the lemon groves before the Supreme Court hearing, "Sometimes our country has no limits" (Lemon Tree).
Possibilities for peaceful coexistence can be found, however, in the strength of people who stand and say no: to find their voice out of apathy and ignorance and work toward peace. While not all of their motives are pure, they are hopeful. Like the film's Palestinian lawyer Ziam Daud and the Israeli reporter Gera Tamar, who both give voice to the powerless and impact how decisions are made. Their jobs require it to a point, however, they go beyond it to get the stories told that are unpopular and could result in political, personal or legal difficulties; or worse. The film's main two women, Mrs. Zidane and Mrs. Navon show the way forward might be through common understandings of people on opposite sides. They are mothers, they are not decision-makers or political people and they each want to be safe and to live well. They take the time to stand and look at each other, in the eye, and in those moments come to an understanding they each are not the enemy (Lemon Tree).
And of course, the two women each show the way. Mrs. Zidane's decision to protest her fate, to go forward and fight for her right to her land shows how one person breaking through the cloud of the occupation to demand to be seen as a human being by all parties involved: the Court, the Israelis, and the Palestinians who tried to dissuade her from proceeding. Mrs. Navon might in the end have left her husband because it looked like he was having an affair with his assistant, but when she leaves it just might be because he refused to step in and give an order to stop the destruction of the grove, which becomes a metaphor for her own marriage. She is the one who reaches out and apologizes to Mrs. Zidane for her the soldier's rudeness, and theft, of the lemons; she is the one who goes to the court for the final verdict to show support; and she is the one for whom the answer to the problem of the grove as a security issue that cannot be exempt from Israeli military policy is insufficient (Lemon Tree).
Since soldiers are the face of the occupation, they get to make choices that break down the stereotypes of hardened, unfeeling Israeli occupiers. Grossman shows that when he goes to the Allenby Bridge to see for him himself how people are treated he is uplifted by some of what he sees - a soldier who is compassionate toward the Palestinians. The soldier discusses how he took apart a doll to ensure that a child could keep it (although his superiors told him no) and folded back up a person's clothing after he searched through it. Most importantly, the soldier when he came across Palestinian human rights activist and lawyer Shehadeh he decided that on that day, he would extend to him the courtesy of making his crossing uneventful (Grossman 169). The soldier guarding the Navon's residence in the film was also kind to Mrs. Zidane. When he saw her in the grove, watering her dying trees, he showed her compassion begging her to leave. When she said that she did not speak Hebrew, he tried again, introducing himself and trying very gently to get her to leave (Lemon Tree).
Grossman, who himself is an example of how change might come - through writing and dialogue and thoughtful reflection and actions - notes that Israeli politicians have sought peace so it is possible to see a political solution. Prime Minister Rabin sought peace not out of love for the Palestinians but because he did not believe that Israelis and Israel could not survive it occupation (Grossman 125). The bridge, which originally had a healing purpose when Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan originally built it was to allow people to pass back and forth, to break down the psychological barriers by allowing Jews and Arabs to get to know each other better, to show the world that all could have access to the religious sites in Israel and to serve as a safety valve for people living on the West Bank. In other words, it was supposed to dampen the harsh effects of occupation not become a political football with Palestinians being punted back and forth by Jordanians and Israelis who could open and close the borders at will. And Shehadeh, who wakes each day to document Israeli land policy while he tries to educate Palestinians on pathways to hope, even if he cannot yet convince his own father that what he does matters (Shehadeh 179).
The Supreme Court decision on Mrs. Zidane's appeal in the film shows also a glimmer of hope. As Daud says it was the first time that an Israeli court recognized the rights of Palestinians to their land. It was not a decision that went directly to the larger issues that Shehadeh examines like the illegal settlements or Grossman's points about the violence. But it does open the door of coexistence just enough to put a little bit of light on rethinking what authority the Israelis have to the land versus the Palestinians, which is at the heart of the problem. The Court ruled for the first time, that the trees were real and could not be uprooted, erased, for they have a life, a history and a place on the land, just like the Palestinians. Perhaps the Defense Minister from the film should have the last word: "We [the Israelis] will sleep quietly only when the Palestinians will have hope." Keeping the trees, even in state they were, was a glimmer of hope.