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Lemon Tree

September 15, 2015

LTSalma, a Palestinian widow – living there for decades – has to stand up against her new neighbor, the Israeli Defence Minister, when he moves into his new house opposite her lemon grove, on the green line border between Israel and the West Bank. The Israeli security forces are quick to declare that Salma’s trees pose a threat to the Ministers safety and issue orders to uproot them. Together with Ziad Daud, a young Palestinian lawyer, Salma goes all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court to try and save her trees. Her struggle raises the interest of Mira Navon, the Defence Minister’s wife, trapped in her new home and in an unhappy life. Despite their differences, and the borders between them, the two women develop an invisible bond, while forbidden ties grow stronger between Salma and Ziad. Salmas legal and personal journey lead her deep into the complex, dark and sometimes funny chaos of the ongoing struggle in the Middle East, in which all players find themselves alone in their struggle to survive. As usual, the Palestinian cause is dismissed, the movie ends with the Israeli wife moving out (obviously separating from her husband), a tall concrete wall has been built between the two properties and a final camera shot shows us half the trees have been cut right down.

Title Card: [last title card] [after the end credits] Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.

The plot of Lemon Tree was based on a real life incident. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz moved to the border within Israel and the occupied territories and security forces began cutting down the olive trees beside his house, arguing that it could be used by terrorists as a hiding place. The Palestinian family who owned the trees sued the minister and took the case all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. They lost, and their trees had to be cut down.

The persistent image of that security wall throughout the film brings to mind a passage in Isaiah 54:2-3 … “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.

But that comes from post apocalyptic passages of Isaiah. It concerns that obsession of the biblical prophets, “post-Day of the Lord”, Israel and this film deals with Israel here and now. Readers of Israel’s prophetic tradition would probably have to concede that Malachi’s apocalyptic prophecies seem to mark the transitional phase.

The New York Times wrote that: Although “Lemon Tree” doesn’t overtly take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it portrays the Israelis, who wield more military power, as abusive and arrogant in the way that any country with superior weapons and armies inevitably appears. The security guards on Navon’s property behave like strutting goons — only too eager to turn their guns on the first thing that moves — or clowns, like the watchtower guard nicknamed Quickie, who dozes off while on duty.

Riklis tried not to make the film explicitly feminist, with the female characters portrayed more sympathetically than the male ones. However, he has said that it can be interpreted that way by viewers. NPR’s Mark Jenkins has stated that the film’s bittersweet ending depicted the difficult status of women in Palestine as well as Palestinian-Israeli relations. Chris Cabin of the AMC Network criticized the film as being too “fem-centric” and as having a uniformly negative treatment of its male characters

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