Lemon tree (2008)

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Winner of the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival and Best Actress prize (Hiam Abbass) at the Israeli Film Academy Awards, LEMON TREE is Eran Riklis’ (THE SYRIAN BRIDE, CUP FINAL) engaging human drama of one woman’s struggle to preserve her way of life in the midst of political turmoil.

The wonderful Hiam Abbass (THE VISITOR) is Salma, a Palestinian widow who earns her living tending to her late father’s lemon grove. When an Israeli government minister moves next door and declares the grove a potential security threat, Salma struggles to defend her peaceful livelihood. Personal drama gives way to political controversies as Salma forms an unexpected bond with the minister’s lonely wife (Rona Lipaz-Michael), and takes her protest – with the help of her young lawyer (Ali Suliman, PARADISE NOW) – all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court.” (iTunes)

“Lemon Tree – Reality, Hope In Israel and Palestine”

By Joel Leyden (Israel News Agency)

It is ever so rare that a truly good and thought provoking movie appears in cinemas around the world. And even much more rare that such a movie could objectivity capture the reality and suffering of those who live in Israel and Palestine.

The Lemon Tree, directed by Israeli Eran Riklis and co-produced by Eran Riklis Productions, Heimatfilm, MACT Productions and Riva Filmproduktion embraces the very essence of life in Israel and Palestine. That is, the little life, that ever so limited contact between two very distant communities which have so much in common and yet so little.

The Lemon Tree, much like Middle-Eastern foods such humus, pita, tehina, falafel and the oven baked Sahara winds of the hamsin and sharav, serves as yet another common denominator, a natural element that both sides share. But from two sides of a cement and cultural wall. The Lemon tree whose flowers are so attractive but the fruit so bitter to eat represents our mornings, afternoons and nights from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Ramallah and Gaza.

The review of such a movie is almost a breathtaking literally challenge. Almost like an ascent on Mt. Everest, never knowing which wind may attempt to take you down. The Israel right wing is ever so ready to criticize this writer for using the word Palestine, but I do so only for search engine optimization purposes. There is no Palestine, but there is a Palestinian people.

The Israeli left wing is ever so ready to criticize me for stating that the Lemon trees should be trimmed for Israel’s security. While those who live in Palestine are curious as to where I come from, how sincere, how objective can I be as an Israeli to review this movie.

Last but not least, there are those in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah who have not seen The Lemon Tree and would be more than pleased to put a bullet through my head.

As for the rest of the world, I only beg that you see this film.
To forget all that you have ever heard or seen about Israel and Palestine and come to this creative and well produced movie with an open mind. To focus on the people of Israel and Palestine, not the war, the rhetoric, the terrorism or the politics.

Without giving the plot or narrative away, the Lemon Tree illustrates the so little contact and the so very sensitive conflict between both cultures. That the newly appointed Israel Minister of Defense, played by Doron Tavory, moves into a Jewish community on the Green Line with his suburban home directly facing the lemon orchards of his Arab neighbor, played by Hiam Abbass. The Minister’s wife eyes her Arab neighbor, Salma, from over a wire fence and a smile develops between both women. It is that smile which brings hope to the movie and to the lives of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians seeking a true and lasting peace.

The Lemon Tree is not a “peace” film. Nor is it a war movie. The Lemon Tree merely represents daily life as it really is in Israel where we do all we can to defend our civilian population from terror attacks. And life in Palestine, where innocent Arabs are caught up in a Web of conflict between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah whose only wish is to destroy Israel. Both people want peace. But the incessant call from Iran and Syria for Islamic Jihad (holy war) and the anti-Semitic, racist education and propaganda holds an entire Arab population at gunpoint.

The middle-aged, lonely but attractive Arab woman who protects her families generations old lemon tree orchards by going through the Israel justice system rather than throwing a grenade epitomizes the balanced and rational approach that Palestinians need to take. Israel is a democracy. The only free democracy in the Middle-East where Israeli Arabs are afforded a fair and just day in court.

The Israel secret service claims that the lemon grove is a threat to the security of the Israel minister. The Shabak states that Islamic terrorists could hide among the trees in their attempt to infiltrate a terror attack on the minister or other Jews in Israel. Salma decides against all odds to fight for her trees. And her legal and global media battle take her to the Israel High Court. On the other side of the grove, Mira Navon, the Minister’s wife, is also undergoing a major change in her life. After fulfilling her duties for so many years, and despite the new house and her husband’s new and powerful job, she feels unhappy. The events around her invisible new Palestinian neighbor gradually make her disgusted with her husband’s approach to the whole affair and she finds herself defying what is expected of her.

The Lemon Tree becomes a symbolic battle of Salma vs. the Israel Minister of Defense: A struggle over principles, humanity, land, history, hate and one woman’s struggle against the system.

The acting, photography, editing and detailed insights into Israel and Palestine life could not be more objective, more professional, more real or profound.

Director Eran Riklis has been active in the movie industry since 1975. His last film, “The Syrian Bride”, has been acclaimed on a worldwide scale and not only in festivals. On the other hand, Riklis has directed shorts, commercials and TV series. He is married, has two children, lives in Tel Aviv but regards himself not only as an Israeli but as a world director.

The Lemon Tree stands tall between Jews who are attacked daily by Qassam rockets coming from Gaza and by Palestinians who cannot and will not stand up to Islamic terrorists who impoverish them financially and emotionally.

The Lemon Tree does not take sides. It merely portrays real life among these ancient people. But the message that it sends out is very clear. Israel’s separation wall which is credited for dramatically reducing terror attacks and the land for which it divides is not the real issue. The Lemon Tree is about real people on both sides of the divide who need to know, understand and communicate with one another – not through bullets, but rather through coffee, tea and lemonade.

That Israelis need to see the cost of their security on those Palestinians who mean them no harm. And for Palestinians to wake up and take the guns and rockets away from Islamic terrorists and replace them with jobs which will provide a better quality of life.

That neither those from Israel or Palestine need not retreat to the US or Europe to find normalcy. Instead, that the Palestinian Authority with the help of Israel, the US, the EU and every democratic nation stops the vile and barbaric media incitement against Israel and the Jews, replaces Islamic propaganda with business trips to factories in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Rishon Letzion.

That Palestinians confront both Iran and Syria and demand that they are no longer used as puppets or agents for those in power in Damascus and Teheran. That Jews in Israel make every attempt to help these Palestinians find a normal and secure life. For as soon as the Islamic propaganda and incitement against Jews is replaced with sweet lemonade, the children on both sides of the wall can then start to take it down.

Israel director Eran Riklis has delivered a potent fictional story, that is in so many ways a microcosm of the struggles between Israel and Palestine, a dispute about land, security, fears and displacement.

“It’s a film about people who are trapped in a political situation,” said Riklis after the contemporary film, based loosely on true stories with a cast of Israeli and Palestinians, made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday.

“It’s a film for all audiences.”

The Lemon Tree won the award for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival

The Lemon Tree, a movie directed and supported by both Israelis and Palestinians, is a shining, courageous and honest step forward for both people. It is using the media to support peaceful change rather than selling newspaper space and television time through the blood and tears of those who live among the lemons.

Genre: Drama, Foreign
Director: Eran Riklis
Cast: Hiam Abbas, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Ali Suliman

(buy DVD)

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