Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Eran Riklis.

Starring:     Hiam Abbass (Salma Zidane), Doron Tavory (Defense Minister Israel Navon), Ali Suliman (Ziad Daud), Rona Lipaz-Michael (Mira Navon), Tarik Kopty (Abu Hussam), Amos Lavi (Commander Jacob), Amnon Wolf (Leibowitz), Smadar Jaaron (Tamar Gera), Danny Leshman (Private Itamar aka Quickie), Hili Yalon (Sigi Navon ).

Palestinian woman must fight a powerful Israeli couple to save her lemon tree orchard

 

Spoiler Warning:  summary of the entire film. 

A woman makes lemonade from the lemons on her trees.  Meanwhile, two men are driving  a delivery truck wondering where is this town Zur-HaSharon?  If they go any farther they figure they will reach Nablus (the West Bank).  The woman finishes making the drink and then puts it on the shelf with lots of similar containers filled with lemons. 

The truck comes to the neighborhood of the woman, Salma Zidane, who makes the lemon drink.  She seems a bit suspicious of the truck and watches intently.  Then she sees a security guard.  Someone is moving into the neighborhood and it must be somebody important given the security precautions. 

On the television appears the new Israeli Defense Minister, Israel Navon, who promises to root out terror wherever it is found.  Salma is watching while setting the table.  She turns the television off.  Her workman says he's through with his work and was wondering when Laila and the kids are coming over?  She says they should be arriving very soon.  She gets a phone call from Laila saying that her boy Ali is ill and they can't come now.  Salma is very disappointed and asks the workman to have dinner with her, but he says he has to get back home.  So Salma has to eat her dinner alone. 

Early the next morning, her sleep is disturbed by workmen.  She goes out to investigate.  Her place is surrounded by her lemon grove.  Now she sees Israeli soldiers and a crane putting up an observation tower.  The radio talks about Hezbollah rocket attacks last night. 

Navon is already up.  His wife Mira comes down for breakfast.  Navon tells her that her friend, Tamar Gera, interviewed President Hafez al-Assad's wife.  (Assad was president of Syria from 1971 to 2000 and then replaced by his son Bashar al-Assad.)  Tamar met her in London.  This woman is British and her real name is Emma, but she calls herself Esma.  Navon asks Mira to make sure she invites Gera to their house warming party.

The workmen are installing the most up-to-date security facilities all around the house.  Barbed wire is strung up, security cameras installed.  After her husband leaves, Mira calls her daughter Sigi and reaches her voice mail.  The message says that her parents forced her to go to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. so that's where she is now.  Mom leaves a message for Sigi to call her mother. 

Salma and the workman bring a lemon tree to plant in her grove.  She is very aware now that she is being watched by a security guard. 

A security guard named Gilad doesn't like the lemon tree grove so close to the house.  It will provide too much cover for any potential terrorist, he says.  The Israeli neighbor he is with says the lemon tree grove has been here for over 50 years and the widow who manages it just barely ekes out a living from it.   The workman and Salma come around the corner and Gilad literally whips his pistol out, disturbing the neighbors.  They are not used to someone pulling a weapon on them.  The man with Gilad tells him to go easy, easy. 

Two Israeli soldiers drive up to Salma's house.  They give a letter to her to the workman and ask him to give it to Salma Zidane.  It's important, they say.   

Kalkilya, the West Bank.  Salma comes into a room filled with men.  All the men suddenly get quiet.  She walks over to a man named Abu Camal.  She says she got a letter in Hebrew, but she can't read Hebrew. Abu translates that they are going to cut down her lemon trees because they pose a safety threat to the Defense Minister who lives across from them.  The letter says it's "an immediate and absolute military necessity."  The letter says she is eligible for compensation.  Abu comments cynically on the great generosity of the Israelis and all the men laugh.  But Salma is not laughing.   Abu reminds her that she knows that they do not take Israeli money. 

Washington, D.C.  Salma calls her son Assad who is working in a restaurant  as a dish washer in the nation's capital.  He tells her that the lemon grove is no longer worth the effort.  He urges her to come live in Washington, D.C. where she will live like a queen.  Life is much easier in the United States he says. 

Mira is giving a tour of her new house to her guests, seven women.  One of her guests is Tamar Gera.  Tamar asks Mira does she like living so close to the border?  Isn't she afraid?  Mira says she is not afraid and she loves looking at the lemon grove across from her house. 

Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank.  Salma shows her I.D. to an Israeli guard and is asked to take a seat.  The soldier tells her that there is nothing they can do for her.  They have already offered her compensation.  And this is the decision of the general in which the administration is not involved. 

Salma goes to talk with her daughter and son-in-law.  The son-in-law says there is a lawyer at the Jelazoon Camp who is a relative of his mother. 

The Jelazoon Refugee Camp, near Ramallah.  Salma asks directions to Ziad Daud's law office.  She finds Ziad eating lunch at his desk.  She introduces herself as Um Nasser, Mussa's mother-in-law.  She explains her problem and he tells her they can appeal it to the Military Court, but that's not going to be easy. 

At night at home Salma dreams of her father carrying her on his shoulder as she picks the lemon fruit.  In the morning the lawyer shows up at her place.  He tells her that he has filed an appeal and that they should be summoned soon.  She introduces Abu Hassam, a man who has worked for her family for 50 years.  Abu says they should show the lawyer the grove.  They walk across for the Defense Minister's house and they see Mrs. Navon.  Ziad comments that she is very good-looking and then immediately regrets saying this in front of Salma.   

The Defense Minister is home and discussing the house warming party.  He tells his wife to have her Arab neighbor cater the affair for them.  Mira seems to like the idea.  Then her husband says that the neighbor is suing him over the lemon tree grove, which the security people say must come down.  Mira is upset by the thought of tearing the woman's grove down. 

In front of the military court judge, a lawyer for the Defense Minister hammers the idea that the grove is an imminent security threat.  Ziad argues that the grove has been in existence for over 50 years and not a single shot has ever been ire fired from the grove.  The Israeli lawyer argues that since September 2000 there has been more than 20,000 terror attacks that have taken place.  The judge says that according to the Intifatah Act the Defense Minister is authorized to proclaim the grove a "hostile territory", so the State doesn't even have to offer any compensation to the land owner.  The appeal is rejected and the grove will be uprooted as soon as possible.  The grove will be completely fenced off and the land owner is not to enter the perimeter.  Salma tells her lawyer that she will not let them touch her lemon trees.  Tears travel slowly down her face.  She tells her lawyer that she will take it to the Supreme Court.  So Ziad says to the court that his client has decided not to accept the court's decision and will be taking the case to the Supreme Court. 

The Israeli Supreme Court, Jerusalem.  The case will be heard before the court.

Mira is not happy with her husband.  She says that he has the power to revoke the order, but he deliberately chooses not to do so.  Navon is very defensive and he tells her that he has a lot to deal with and he doesn't need attitude from her.  Her point of view, however, is that there has to be a better solution than just cutting down the entire grove. 

The fence is being put up around the perimeter.  Tamar Gera asks the Defense Minister what he is doing about the appeal filed by his Palestinian neighbor?  He gives the reporter some lame excuse about he can't go against the secret service.  But as of now, the grove must come down.   

Salma crosses over the perimeter and checks on her trees which are wilting.  The guard tells her to go home.  She says she doesn't know any Hebrew.  The guard is very polite and courteous.  He comes down and asks her name and then he gives his name, Itamar.  Gilad, arrives, and he's not Mr. Nice Guy.  He scolds the soldier for letting her into the perimeter.  Itamar says he didn't.  Gilad tells him to get back up to his tower position.  Now he asks Salma why is she causing trouble?  Salma says because her lemon trees are dying. 

Mira watches and listens to all of this and she looks concerned.  Salma sees Mira watching her as she ignores Gilad and starts picking lemons.  The Palestinian eoman gives the Israeli an evil eye look and Mira closes her drapes. 

Ramallah, the West Bank.  Ziad drives Salma to Ramallah.  They go to see the president, but a friend who works there says the president is too busy at this time to see them.  Ziad drives Salma back to his law office.  She asks him if they have a chance?  Not much of one since no one seems willing to assist them in any way. 

Salma takes her jewels out from storage in her large pillow case and puts them on. 

Abu Hassam tells the lawyer that Salma lost her mother when she was very young.  He and her father then both raised Salma together and took good care of her.  Now she is all he has that is important in this world and he just wanted to make that plain as day for Ziad. 

Ziad knocks on the door late at night.  He says they have blocked the roads off and he can't get home.  So she lets him come in.  She fixes a bed for him and he lays down.  Neither one of them can sleep.  So they both get up and meet in the kitchen.  Salma is making tea already and she offers some to Ziad.  He asks her how her husband died?  Salma says he had to go look for work elsewhere, his heart was weak and it gave out on him.  He left her with three kids.  She now asks about his family and Ziad says he has a little girl named Luna.  He left them behind in Moscow where he went to school.  He says he is always running away from thoughts of what he left behind.  Salma says that's a pity.  She says he's young and has his whole life ahead of him, whereas she does not.  Ziad tells her that she is still very beautiful. 

Mira sees Salma inside the perimeter picking up lemons.  Salma walks over to the fence, but neither woman says anything. 

Salma goes to Ziad's office.  He calls there saying that he will be delayed a bit, but he would like Salma to wait for him.  Salma starts organizing his desk top and finds photographs of Ziad with his Russian woman and his Russian daughter.  She washes the floor for Ziad.  He is amazed at how clean his office and home look.  He asks her now how is he going to find anything?  Salma laughs. 

The Defense Minister is irritated about still being asked questions about the lemon grove.  He says he is taking his daughter out to dinner and leaves. 

The Supreme Court case starts.  Abu Hassam is a character witness for Salma.  A witness for the state says that the trees have not been taken care of in quite a while.  Ziad answers back that it is because of a court order forbidding Salma from tending to the orchard.  At court, Ziad says hello to a Mr. Braverman, who tells Ziad what he already knows.  He has very little chance of success with his case. 

Abu Camal comes to see Salma.  He tells her he has been hearing bad things about her.  There is talk about romance between she and the lawyer.  He tells her he won't let anyone besmirch the memory of her husband.  He says to her don't make him come out here to the house again.  Salma doesn't say a word to him. 

The house warming party is about to start.  The staff forgot to bring lemons so with an armed escort they pick some lemons from the lemon grove.  Salma comes tearing toward them shouting why are they picking her lemons and for them to get out of there!   Everyone is watching her and she feels so frustrated and angry.  She starts picking up her lemons and throwing them at the Defense Minister and his wife.  She fights to stay free of the soldiers.  The Defense Minister tells one soldier to leave her alone!  His wife says they just wanted a few lemons and that she is sorry.  Salma just takes her apron off and uses it to tie over her head. 

Ziad calls Salma.  Very tenderly, they ask each other how they are doing and then hang up.  Now Salma at least has a smile on her face. 

The Defense Minister has brought in a very good singer and the whole crowd joins in on the singing.  Mira keeps looking over at the lemon grove, almost expecting to see the shape of her neighbor inside the perimeter. 

A bomb goes off and the Israeli soldiers pour into the home of Salma.  They asks her if anyone has been here in the past hour?  They turn over her chairs and spill her lemons onto the floor and break some dishes. 

Tamar comes over to talk with Salma, who tells her that ever since the Defense Minister has moved in, her life has turned to hell.  And yesterday the Defense Minister stole lemons from her grove without asking her permission. 

The Defense Minister and his wife answer questions about the attack on the house yesterday evening.  Mira says she wishes she could be a better neighbor  --- to be a normal neighbor.  But she supposes that there has been too much blood and politics to permit them to be normal neighbors. 

Tamar talks with Mira.  She is not a happy camper.  She wishes she had another child or could adopt and talks about having a "hole" inside her soul.  

The next day the Defense Minister sees his picture and his wife's picture in the paper on the front page.  Mrs. Navon is quoted as saying:  "Our state has no limits!"  The paper asks the question:  "Does Minister Navon fear Salma Zidane?"  Novon calls home immediately.  His wife is there but she's not answering the phone.  Novon leaves a message asking her if she is stupid or what?  And he wants he to call up this Tamar Gera this very instant and retract everything she said.  "Got it?  Now!" 

Novon tells people that he is going to sue the paper because his wife did not say what she was quoted as saying.  He issues orders that the newspaper's correspondents are not to be allowed into the territories.

Ziad comes to Salma with the newspaper saying that he has very good news.  Mrs. Novon has done everything for them and they might even use her comments in court.   He kisses Salma on the lips but she doesn't respond at all.  He tells her he's sorry.  At night Salma has a hard time sleeping.

The Defense Minister appears on a TV talk show and he is asked about the lemon tree grove again!  And he says he's not afraid of anything, and especially not afraid of a lemon grove.  At home Navon apologizes for saying what he did on the telephone.  Mira says she's sorry about the whole thing too.  He blames Tamar, but Mira says she said everything that Tamar said she said. 

The Defense Minister drew up a letter that he wants Mira to sign.  His pretty secretary Shelly keeps calling Mira asking about signing the letter.  She says she's worried that all this controversy will hurt both her and her husband.  In private, she refers to Mira as a "stupid cow". 

At home Mira finally signs the letter. 

Also at home, Salma is getting a lot of publicity.  The Norwegian ambassador sends her the good wishes of the Norwegian people and says if there is anything she needs, she can just call Oslo and they will get it for her.  A reporter says from Oslo to Madrid the lemon grove has become a big political issue. 

On TV in the United States, Assad sees his mother!  He can't believe it!  Ziad says;  "Mrs. Zidane's case represents the Palestinian struggle."  The owner of the restaurant and bar offers a toast to Assad's mother and everyone drinks to her.  One of her neighbors, the one who told Gilad to go easy on Salma, now tells Salma that her husband would not have gone head-to-head against the state of Israel as she did.  And he says she better be careful not to let that wise guy lawyer of hers break her heart.  Again, Salma, says absolutely nothing. 

One day, while Gilad is sleeping, Mrs. Novon goes over to the lemon grove fence.  The gate is open and she just goes inside to see the grove.  The trees don't look good.  She climbs over the fence and finds herself at the door of Salma's house.  Salma is crying in the kitchen.  She is just about to knock on the door when Gilad catches up with her and sends her back home.  By the time Salma goes to investigate, Mrs. Novon is on her way back to her home.

At home Mira cries.  She calls her daughter and actually gets her on the line this time.  They can see and hear each other over the computer.  Zigi wants to know why has her mother been crying?  Mom says she doesn't know why.  But she starts talking about the lemon tree trial coming up tomorrow.  She says:  "These stupid lemons turned my life upside down."  Zigi tells her mother that she is very depressed and asks her to take care of herself. 

Salma cannot sleep again.  The next day Ziad comes out to see her.  He knocks on her door and it's obvious that she's not ready to go to court.  He tells her to hurry up ad get dressed because they don't want to be late for court.  Salma says maybe she is a bit afraid.  When she is ready, he tells her that she looks really good.  He also says they are going to win the case.  Salma says then she will never see him again.  She slowly kisses him on the lips. 

At first the Israeli guard is not going to let them go through, but a higher up intervenes on Salma's behalf.  They are met at the court by lots of journalists.  Mrs. Novon shows up and the two women look at each face to face without a fence between them.  They still don't speak a word to each other.  The court comes up with a compromise.  50% percent of the trees will be cut down to 30 cm.  This would allow a clear view into the grove.  Salma stands up and says:  "Your decision dishonors my late father and my late husband.  My trees are real.  My life is real. You're already building a wall around us.  Isn't that enough?"  But the judge makes it clear that if Salma doesn't take the compromise then all the trees will have to be taken down. 

The lawyer explains the compromise to the journalists.  Salma and Mira leave without speaking to each other. 

Salma packs up her husband's stuff and stats burning the clothes.  Abu comes over to show her the paper where Ziad is going to marry one of the minister's daughters.  Mira seems to be moving out.  She now leaves Gilad.  The Defense Minister now sits in the home all alone.  Now he cannot see anything of the grove because he lives behind a very tall and huge solid concrete wall.  It looks ridiculous, but there it is. 

Salma comes over to stare at the wall for awhile. 

 

Good movie.  Very interesting with a surprise ending.  The two women actors were just great.  How sad, two women who really feel sympathy for each other, never actually speak to each other though they are going through a life-altering court battle over a lemon tree grove.  One constantly hopes that the two women can reach beyond the limitations of blood and politics and actually talk to each other like fellow human beings.  But no, the barriers were too strong for both women and both women were strong women.  The film indicates that Israeli society has a lot to do to overcome boundaries between people.  Let's hope that the Palestinians don't become a kind of permanent underclass in Israel where inequalities and iniquities go on and on generation after generation in a never-ending cycle of poverty and resentment.     On the good side, Hiam Abbass got the Israeli Academy award for Best Actress for her performance in the film.   

Doron Tavory (as Defense Minister Israel Navon) was also very good, divided as he was between basic common decency and the security demands of the Israeli state.  Personally, he paid too high of a price for being so cold to the Palestinian woman and to his own wife.  A little compassion can go a long way, but he foolishly wouldn't bend and paid for it.  He should have taken steps to reach a compromise between the parties but he was just too inflexible in his personal relations with others. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 
 

 

 

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