An Evaluation of The Lemon Tree and Encounter Point by Kate Finneran

Kate Finneran

An Evaluation of The Lemon Tree and Encounter Point

Although there are many conflicting opinions, most agree that the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict happened in 1948, when Israel gained its independence and the Palestinians suffered an exodus called the Nakba. In order to combat this problem, The United Nations created UN Resolution 242, which created two separate states for two separate people: Israel and Palestine; however, this resolution has not solved the problem, but has escalated the violence. Therefore, many critics offer a one-state solution proposal: both groups of people live in one-state, each protected equally under one government, together.

While there are still many groups that oppose this one-state solution, it is rapidly gaining support among the Israeli, Palestinian, and international populations. One way in which the support of the one-state solution can be measured is through the presence in the arts. Whether it is directly stated or simply inferred, many artists speak of peace through a one-state solution. One such prominent example is in film; specifically when examining two films: Encounter Point and Lemon Tree. The two films both demonstrate the complex religious and ethnic diversity within Israel and Palestine; in order to best resolve the tensions within the state, these cinematic pieces show the benefits of a one-state, secular government solution through the dangers of what is currently happening within the two-state solution.

Encounter Point is a documentary-film that shows the desire to reach peace from both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives through the lens of the Bereaved Families Forum. This group, founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal, brings together families from both sides of the conflict to discuss and mourn those who were lost as a result of the conflict. It especially highlights how groups, such as The Bereaved Families Forum, allows for people to change their views and perspective about the conflict and the opposing ethnic group.

The best example given by the film is the bonding between two fathers:  Tzvika Shahak, an Israeli man, and George Sa’adeh, a Palestinian. Both men lost daughters as a result of the conflict, and each respectively felt hatred toward the other side. However, once they joined the Bereaved Families Forum, they were able to see the humanity in the opposing side of the conflict, specifically in one another. A poignant scene from the film shows the two fathers chatting simply about their lives at the forum; this highlights the extent to which their respective perspectives had changed. Each had felt such intense hatred toward the other side that reconciliation seemed impossible. However, in the words of Shahak, “If we who lost what is most precious can talk to each other, and look forward to a better future, then everyone else must do so too.” Shahak highlights that even the group of people in the most unforgiving state of mind, those who have lost children as a result of the conflict, can find peace within one another. Therefore, there can be a solution to this conflict.

The rationale behind why this film supports a one-state solution is that a one-state solution allows for better unity between peace building groups, such as the Bereaved Families Forum. The opening scene of the film shows two conflicting perspectives: a Palestinian trying to get through border control, and an Israeli trying to get through border control. Whereas the Israeli man simply has to smile and he is waved through, the Palestinian man’s ability to get through security depends on his luck and the mood of the guards. This simple, but powerful, contrast shows the extent of the inequality faced by the Palestinians throughout the full two-state solution. However, this problem could be more easily resolved if both groups had total equality under a government that recognized them both as residents of the state.

It is at this point in the film that The Bereaved Families Forum is introduced as a method of peace building. This support group does more than just allow families to grieve their loved ones; it also combats the natural stereotypes that arrive after someone loses a family member as a result of war. Without this group, parents like Shahak and Sa’adeh would not have the opportunity to meet each other and recognize the humanity in the other. The absence of this group also would have prevented the ability of Robi Damelin to move on from the death of her son, David Damelin.

David was an Israeli soldier who worked at a checkpoint when he was shot from afar by a sniper and killed. The natural maternal instinct to this situation is a desire for vengeance and retribution; however, Robi joins the Bereaved Families Forum and develops the ability to not only mourn her son peacefully, but also it allowed her to move past the guttural anger for his assassin. In an interview with Just Vision, the nonprofit behind the creation of the documentary, she says, in regards to the sniper, “I said that he killed David not because he was David; if he had met David he would have loved David. David worked for peace, David was part of the soldiers who didn’t want to serve in the territories. David was the most loving person, if he had sat down and had coffee with David, they would have become friends” (Robi Damelin).

Robi continues on to credit, in part, The Bereaved Families Forum as part of the reason for her being able to move on. She says,

The pain breaks down barriers very quickly between Palestinians and Israelis in the group.

There’s a sense of trust. It’s not hummus and hugs– it’s much deeper than that; it’s acknowledgement and empathy, which happen much faster than in a normal meeting between a Palestinian and an Israeli because we recognize each other immediately through the pain (Robi Damelin).

This quote illustrates not only the character of Robi, but also the peacebuilding possibilities that are available through forums such as this. The best way to end the pain and the violence is through those who are the most affected by it: those who have lost family members. If these mourners on both sides of the conflict are able to meet, they will, as Robi points out, be able to recognize the humanity of the other through their shared pain. Furthermore, it creates an outlet that combats the natural stereotyping of the other as a villain, which often occurs as a result of a loved one dying in a war or ethnic conflict.

At one point in the film, The Bereaved Families Forum is trying to meet, but there are extreme difficulties due to the border security. The Israeli half of the group is left waiting for hours as the Palestinian half attempts to join them. Irritation with the other is present for both groups of people in this situation that is supposed to be building peace between the two groups of people. This inherent irony raises the question of how peace is supposed to be successfully created by a group, such as this forum, if members of the group are unable to meet each other. The solution to this problem is the creation of a one-state solution that allows all people equal access to all parts of the state.

The transition to a one-state solution would be difficult, but not impossible. It would not only allow groups like the Bereaved Families Forum to meet more easily, but in that allowance, the possibility of a more successful transition from a two-state solution to a one state solution could be achieved. The only way for groups like this to be successful is with wide access to people, but if half of the people who attend the group cannot be present, such as the Palestinians, then there is no purpose to the group at all.

When examining this documentary as an artistic piece, the impact of art on politics becomes immediately apparent. While the focus of this film was on the impact that the support group had upon those who had lost loved ones, simply the creation of this documentary film highlighting the group makes an exponential difference. Not only does it bring much needed publicity to these peace building efforts, but it also shows the reality of what both Israelis and Palestinians face on a day-to-day basis.

However, it is not only documentary films that are able to impact the political spectrum. The film Lemon Tree tells the story of Salma, a Palestinian woman, fight a legal battle for the possession of her lemon grove against the Israeli Defense Minister. The Defense Minister’s secret service deems her lemon grove as a security threat, since it has the possibility of being infiltrated by Palestinian terrorists; therefore, they need to cut down the trees. Salma then appeals to the court, and when they reject her plea, appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s ruling simply states that the trees need to be “trimmed,” which results in the destruction of her lemon grove. In addition to this overarching conflict, there are two very important subplots to the film. The first is the creation of the separation wall at the border, where both Salma and the Defense Minister live. The other subplot is the “relationship” between Salma and Mira, the Defense Minister’s wife.

Even though these two women never meet they have a multitude of similarities. The most important of these similarities is that they are both mothers who have children abroad; Mira has a daughter attending Georgetown University, while Salma’s son is working at a restaurant. Through this shared motherhood, each woman has developed an overwhelming desire for peace, but more importantly, they both recognize the inherent inequality between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. For Salma, this recognition is a result of her life and the direct effect that the uprooting of her lemon trees has. For Mira, her realization comes from watching her husband’s complete disregard for the plight of the Palestinians, specifically in how dismissive he acts to the lemon grove situation.

The relationship between these two women is one of the most prominent examples as to why the two-state solution is failing. This claim is best recognized through the strength of their relationship despite the fact that they have never actually met, and only had one spoken interaction. Throughout the film they are quite literally separated; first by the fence, and then by the secret service. Therefore, all of their interactions revolve around observations and moments of eye contact. Even though they do not physically communicate through these looks, a relationship develops between them that is strong enough for Mira to thwart her security team, and sneak through the lemon grove in an attempt to talk to Salma. However, right before they are finally able to speak, the security guard stops Mira and takes her home. If the two women had been able to meet, there would have been a higher chance of peace and resolution to the conflict outside of the court system. Furthermore, a resolution that arrived due to the Defense Minister’s own personal actions, as opposed to a court mandate, would have promoted a stronger peace agreement between the two sides of the conflict.

The film concludes with a shot of Mira moving out of the house, the marriage presumably ended, and the separation wall erected between the Defense Minister’s home and Salma’s home. As the camera pans over the wall, the audience observes Salma in the ruins of her lemon grove. Even though the Supreme Court ruling said that the trees only needed to be pruned, the entirety of her grove is destroyed and she mourns in the ruins. However, with the creation of the wall, it becomes apparent that the destruction of the grove was not even necessary; the wall would have prevented any possible attack against the Defense Minister.

Moreover, the wall becomes symbolic of the destruction that occurs because of the two-state solution. Not only is it an ever-intrusive physical barrier that further destroys the possibility of conflict, it is the separation between the two groups of people that creates the conflict. Due to the way in which the Defense Minister handles the situation, by putting up the wall and completely disregarding Salma’s plight, his marriage ends; so, in essence, the erection of the wall and the demolition of the trees create the destruction of his marriage.

This film also shows how art can affect politics. Although documentaries, such as Encounter Point, seem to have a more direct impact on public discourse, fictional films like Lemon Tree also show the real-life struggles of each respective member of the conflict. Through this film, the audience is able to see how the conflict over the lemon grove affects every single character: the destruction of the grove is the destruction of Salma’s family heritage; Mira is forced into a state of self-reflection and the end of her marriage; and the Defense Minister has to deal with the political, and international, ramifications of the lemon tree debacle. Although this particular situation is fictional, the conflict and the impacts of the lemon tree debate are an ever-present reality between Israelis and Palestinians.

This film also shows the real effect of governmental policies; in this case the court ordered destruction of the lemon grove, on individuals. This individual impact, when juxtaposed to the statistical and abstract stories often presented by the news media, allows the audience to see the emotional and human impact of this conflict. Therefore, the film allows for the audience to reflect upon current events on individuals through the lens of governmental policies. These reflections then cause the audience to raise questions as to why policies such as the destruction of the lemon grove happen. This awareness is typically the first step to political reform and the creation of a peace agreement.

Even though the perspective of this film is clearly in favor of Salma, that perspective does not mean that the film is anti-Israeli, or even against the Defense Minister. Although the audience is clearly not supposed to be in his favor, especially since he shirks the blame of the lemon conflict onto the secret service as opposed to claiming responsibility, the film does portray him as human. This humanity is best depicted in his relationship with Mira, specifically the kind and loving way in which he treats her. This humanizing of the Defense Minister, the “villain” of the film, shows that there are more complexities to the conflict than simply “good” versus “evil.” Rather, it is two groups of people who each struggle to find a solution that best benefits them.

A one-state solution would create equality and unit among Palestinians and Israelis. Within a one-state solution, the government would not recognize one ethnic group as inherently superior and all people would be able to have equal rights. Therefore, even though the Israeli Jewish population is declining, they would still receive the same rights and benefits as their Palestinian counterparts. Furthermore, a one-state solution would not take away from the presence of an all Jewish state, but rather it would create an all-inclusive Jewish state.

In theory, it seems counter-productive since it would be forcing two groups of people who hate each other under the same government. However, through films such as Encounter Point and Lemon Tree it becomes increasingly apparent that both Israelis and Palestinians that there are inherent human bonds among people. These bonds are developed through mutual grief, as presented by the grieving families in Encounter Point; through observation of the other as presented by Mira and Salma in Lemon Tree; and by shared experiences which can be seen in both films.

These films also demonstrate the negative impacts of the current semi-two-state solution and how a one-state solution would rectify this situation. The hate that results from each group actually comes from a lack of interaction, which a one-state solution could solve. Groups such as the Bereaved Family Forum and efforts to communicate, like that of Mira reaching out to Salma in Lemon Tree, give each side the opportunity to see the humanity in the other. However, just meeting with each other will not work on its own because there are too many difficulties, such as border control. Therefore, the best way to solve the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is through open communication between each side, which can best be achieved through a one-state solution.