"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lemon Tree by Eran Riklis

Lemon Tree is a new and hard-hitting Israeli feature film, which tells a story of two women – one Palestinian and one Jewish. The basic plot revolves around the fact that the security establishment has decided to cut down Salma's lemon trees because they constitute a security threat.

Salma is a widow, the owner of a grove of lemon trees which is located on the border, right next to a Jewish settlement. Mira, the wife of the newly elected minister of defense, has recently moved into her new home in this border community. The two women exchange a few glances, they are conscious of each other, but their lives are defined and encompassed by political and gender considerations, and by a fence which separates them.

The Palestinian woman, Salma, is in a position of weakness politically and socially, but is strong in her determination and her courage. The Jewish woman, Mira, on the other hand, is in a position of strength politically, but she is weak. Although she does not want to be a party to the uprooting of her neighbor’s lemon trees, she is unable to stop it. She is weak in the face of the platitudes that her husband spouts. The two women look out at each other’s homes, across the divide, but are unable to bridge the issues that separate them. They are both victims of the male leadership of their societies that keeps them apart. Only once, Mira shouts "I am sorry," to Salma.

Salma's lawyer brings her case to court and then makes an appeal before the Supreme Court. Salma is saluted as a symbol for the entire Palestinian people. According to Eran Riklis, she is an Erin Brokowitz character, going on a legal journey for what is right. She is also a woman linked to mother earth, a fertile woman -- as a mother and grandmother, and more symbolically, she is tied to the fruit of the land, her lemons. Yet, she is a woman trapped in a deadlocked situation, similar to the Druze woman in Eran Riklis' previous film, The Syrian Bride. The Jewish woman, Mira, seems to be no less trapped in an untenable situation.

Uprooting TreesIs it possible that security considerations could justify the uprooting of the lemon trees? Except for Salma and Mira, everyone seems to agree that it is either necessary or inevitable. The film's soundtrack includes a rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary's: "Lemon tree very pretty and the flower is so sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."

Even though during Biblical times, Jews were forbidden to cut down fruit trees, even when laying siege to the enemy (Deuteronomy 20:19), the Israeli army has actually been uprooting olive trees in the West Bank for security reasons. The gnarled olive tree is deeply rooted in this land and the olive branch is a symbol of peace. But the security establishment feels that olive trees must be cleared from along the border areas due to security considerations. In this film, Eran Riklis has chosen to use the bittersweet lemon instead of the olive as a symbol of the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. The lemon is both sweet and sour and much more striking in its color, perhaps therefore more cinematic!

The above-mentioned reference from Deuteronomy 20:19, "When you lay siege to a city for many days, in making war against it, you shall not destroy the trees," continues by making a comparison between man and a tree: "for man is the tree of the field." Why does the Torah make this comparison between man and a tree? The film also refers to a more contemporary and popularized version of this comparison -- an Israeli song, written by Natan Zach, and sung by Shalom Chanoch: "Man is the tree of the field."
כי האדם עץ השדה
כמו העץ הוא צמא למים

Mankind, like a tree, needs land, water, air and sunshine to flourish. In the film, the wise, old Palestinian worker refers to one more characteristic that mankind has in common with trees. When he testifies in court, he states: "Trees are like human beings with a soul." Perhaps trees have even more humanity than human beings.

Lemon Tree has recently become available for rental on DVD.


R Dahlia Kronish said...

I have not seen this movie, however, I found the reference to Deuteronomy very interesting. In his translation and commentary to the book of Deuteronomy, Nahum Sarna suggests translating the verse comparing humans to fruit trees as a question: is the fruit tree a person that will withdraw before you in a siege?
In other words, suggests Sarna, trees are more vulnerable than people - it is therefore our responsibility to protect them.

It seems from Amy's comments, that the idea of vulnerability plays an essential role in the movie Lemon Tree. Perhaps the question here is who is more vulnerable: the tree or the people?

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish

Ellen said...

The Lemon Tree has taken hostage my inner thoughts. I look forward to the day when I'll find myself thinking of anything but The Lemon Tree.
To share with you my latest musings:
Each woman in the film, the Israeli Defense Minister's wife, Mira, and the Arab lemon grove owner, Salma, became a pawn in the hands of the political establishment. Salma's lawyer quickly discovered he could parlay his efforts on his client's behalf into the Palestinian cause, elevating him to be politically connected and famous.Mira's husband used her to agree with him politically/publically on the issue of destroying the lemon tree grove. Both women were used for political gain. Both women were effaced until they found their courage to become themselves once again. Salma refused her lawyer's sexual advances and Mira left her husband as she became able to acknowledge his adultery.