In 2009’s “Lemon Tree”, Israeli Director Eran Riklis takes the story of a rather ordinary situation under occupation and turns it into a fairly extraordinary journey into life under occupation. Salma Zidane (portrayed by Hiam Abbass), a 45-year old Palestinian widow who spends her time tending to her family’s lemon grove finds herself living next to an unexpected neighbor when the Israeli minister of defense moves in next door. As expected, the minister’s secret service personnel decide to cut down the grove, which has been in Zidane’s family for 50 years, in the name of national security, fearing that would-be “terrorists” could use it attack the house.
What follows is a legal battle as Zidane sues the minister and, along with her lawyer, Ziad, played by Ali Suliman, attempts to take the case all the way to the Israeli supreme court. Media attention begins to shine its spotlight as the minister’s wife starts to take an unexpected position on the issue.
The grove is perhaps allegorical of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but Riklis does a fairly decent job at creating a story that doesn’t aim to take a position from the start. Instead, the focus is on the characters and the storytelling. How all that plays out may be an inevitable depiction of Israel as an overbearing occupying force, casting its policy of land-confiscation as an ordinary act of occupation. On the other hand, any human being with half a heart, regardless of skin color or creed, will probably be inclined to sympathize with the protagonist of the film, the character of Salma Zidane.
Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating unfolding of events that are as realistic as one can imagine, and, in fact, the story is somewhat based on actual events (replacing lemons with olives in reality). And although the film can be taken for its most common denominator, an allegorical tale of a decades-old conflict, at the heart of it, Lemon Tree is also about the often-ignored role that women play in the midst of such conflicts. That alone makes it a rather worthy watch.
I sincerely hope cinemas in Amman will manage to fit this film in between this summer’s slew of blockbusters.