It has been two months since the ceasefire between Palestine and Israel, and media coverage on the conflict has dwindled and shifted its focus to other parts of the Middle East. Lemon Tree, with its delicate approach to a seemingly trivial episode on a land torn by war, can be a timely reminder of the underlying issues at the root of this unresolved conflict.
Co-written by Israeli filmmakers Suha Arraf and Eran Riklis, and directed by the latter, Lemon Tree is set near the border between Israel and the West Bank, where the Palestinian woman, Salma, lives in solitude by the lemon grove she inherited from her father.
Surrounded by concrete walls and the arid landscape, Salma’s lemon grove is what supports her to become an independent and courageous woman after the departure of her family.
This spiritual oasis, unfortunately, is soon to be destroyed after the Israeli Defense Minister and his wife, Mira, move in next door as Salma’s neighbor. For fear of assassins hiding in the lemon grove, the secret service orders to uproot the lemon trees. The order evokes a series of events that eventually end up in the Supreme Court.
The scenario seems unrealistic in the real world given the tension near the border. Nonetheless, by juxtaposing the two households side by side, we not only see the stark contrast between them in terms of imbalanced power and how the lemon grove transforms their lives, but also in the shared struggles between Salma and Mira. While Salma lives like a prisoner on her own land, Mira lives like a prisoner in her own mansion. Both are constrained by their identities and circumstances.
Although there is some romantic undertone, the film is essentially a poetic presentation of women’s struggles and aspirations in a society saturated with hostility.
As the camera follows Salma’s defense for her lemon grove, it also captures the disdain held towards Salma in her daily life because of her ethnicity and gender.
The hostility does not only come from the Israeli state, but also from the male domination within the Palestinian society, under which Salma was constantly watched by the phantom of her late husband.
What makes the film so charming is the attention to the subtle details of daily domesticity. We grow fond of Salma as she picks the lemons, pickles them, and puts on the hijab.
These gestures, performed elegantly by Hiam Abbass, bring Salma’s world within a reachable distance while highlighting the absurd bureaucratic measures taken by the Defense Minister.
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami said in his acceptance speech of the Jerusalem Prize: “If there is a hard, high wall, and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg.” In the context of Lemon Tree, it is Salma’s lemon versus the high wall separating one land into two worlds, where some people enjoy more freedom than others.
Please join us for a free screening of Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree, Wednesday November 12, at 8 pm @ ARTSPACE, 378 Aylmer Street (between Hunter and Simcoe). All are welcome!