Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Lemon Tree

On my flight from Tel Aviv to London two days ago, I turned the last page of The Lemon Tree, the chronicle of a Palestinian, a Jew, and how the intersection of their lives 40 years ago profoundly touched them both.  It is a book of nonfiction, meticulously researched, and while it follows the protagonists throughout their lives, most of its pages are devoted to the deep and complex history that is the backdrop for their story.  I came across it through the good fortune of meeting its Jewish lead, Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, during my trip to Israel last June, and I finally picked up the book in earnest during my time in Israel this past week.  Throughout my trip, as I’ve run along the coast, passed the exit for Ramla on the way to work, and stood in the cafe line with uniformed Israeli soldiers, I’ve had the painful, complicated, unsettling story of this land and its history coursing through my mind.

It is a familiar feeling – part humiliation, part indignation—that I get whenever I am confronted with my own ignorance.  I felt this way when I finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which wiped away my smug innocence about industrial food production.  I felt this way reading Anil’s Ghost, a novel which led me stumbling into a 25-year Sri Lankan civil war I had never heard of.  I felt this way, moments after I sat meditating on my hotel balcony and reciting the Sh’ma under my breath, as I read the front-page story on sex trafficking in Haaretz.  Sometimes, the joy in my life seems foolish and na├»ve when I realize how often it rests on, or at least ignores, someone else’s suffering.  

In The Lemon Tree, which provides an impartial, journalistic account of the shared Israeli-Palestinian history, I found myself reading a story that was only half familiar to me.  Throughout my life, I have celebrated and appreciated Israel.  I have felt connected with the Jewish state at the heart.  But I realized in reading this book how little I know her.  It’s a bit like learning that your mother was naughty in her youth, and maybe still isn’t the goddess you thought she was when you were five.  You don’t love her any less- maybe even a little more – but it is a more mature love.

In my work at GreenRoad, I’ve championed a product initiative we call Data into Action.  The core concept is that negligence is worse than ignorance.  If you manage a trucking fleet, and you have data suggesting that one of your drivers is unsafe, then you have a responsibility to act on that information.  Knowing and failing to act is more of a liability than not knowing.  The tools and systems we provide to fleet managers focus on distilling insight from the millions of data points we collect and translating them into actionable plans.

As I finish this book, I have crossed over- perhaps just barely- from ignorance.  The question is, as a Jew living in America, and as someone who is far from an expert on the region, what action do I take to avoid negligence?  Unlike GreenRoad, the facts do not lead me to anything obvious.  I still celebrate Israel and what it means to have a Jewish state.  I know I will still feel it in my bones when I land in Tel Aviv.  And I know that visiting Israel, even multiple times per year, is nothing like living there.  So where does that leave me?

For now, it feels most important to engage in dialogue.  This is one chapter of history I don’t feel comfortable shelving as “interesting”.   I have a terrible memory for facts, and I’m afraid that the details will get foggy for me if I don’t keep them alive.  So I am hoping that others will read The Lemon Tree, and will share their response to it, and maybe together, we can figure out what it means for us to love with eyes wide open.

If you’d like to join me, I would love to hear from you.