“We are born with the capacity for empathy. An ability to recognize emotions transcends race, culture, nationality, class, gender, and age” says Mary Gordon.
‘Empathy’ was the foremost thought that struck me when I saw this beautiful Israeli movie.Lemon Tree is a 2008 movie directed by Eran Riklis.The movie is set in West Bank,a part of the Israeli occupied territory -as classified by the UN.A land-locked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, it has perpetually witnessed upheavals and finally was occupied by Israel following a six day war in 1967.Ensuing the military occupation, Israeli settlements in West Bank comprised a sizable population in an area predominantly dominated by Palestinian Arabs.
It is in this combustible landscape that two women’s lives intertwine – a Palestinian Arab widow and a Jewish Israeli woman married to the Israeli defense minister. Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass) is a middle-aged Palestinian Arab widow who lives alone with limited financial support from her three children. Her life revolves around nurturing her small lemon tree orchard from which she manages to derive a meager income.Her simple life is unsettled when an Israeli defense minister moves in as her neighbor.Barbed wires, tall check posts and round-the- clock security men invade her life and peace. But she finds her life careening, when the orders come in to uproot her beloved lemon trees,as a security measure to deter any armed attack on the defense minister’s house. Salma, a woman brought up in a strict patriarchal society, refuses to be cowed down and decides to take on the Israeli government to save her lemon trees.The story is about her determined struggle to get justice.
When she hires a young lawyer – Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman) to fight for her, long forgotten emotions resurface. The story is also about loneliness and desires.
Mira Navon (Rona Lipaz-Michael), the Israeli defense minister’s wife is witness to Salma’s struggles to save her trees. A compassionate woman, Mira is moved by her plight and empathizes with her.And in the process,she can no longer ignore her husband’s glaring hypocrisies and shortcomings. She doggedly sticks to the role of a dutiful wife but she can no longer cast aside the growing loneliness within her. Mira and Salma – two women who can’t even communicate with each other. There are language,nationality and history barriers, but they reach out to each other. In a human bond, which is devoid of all requirements of such frivolities.Two women, who struggle in their own way to break the molds society has set for them.Both choosing to revolt in their own way. There are no winners or losers. There is only a sense of completion.
It is a simple movie – brilliantly directed, poignant and depicts a plethora of subtle hues of the life, times and people involved.Hiam Abbass has acted exceptionally well and in several instances her face emotes far better than any verbal dialogues possibly could.Being a widow in a society, where social mores are rigidly imposed is also depicted through some well chosen shots.
Eran Riklis deals with the movie in a largely apolitical fashion focusing on people and relationships rather than on the conflict. The film did come in from criticism as it was said to be pro-Palestine and portrayed the Israelis, who wield more military power, as abusive and arrogant. Nevertheless, it went on to win several awards in Berlin Film Festival and Asia Pacific Screen Awards.