Lemon Tree – Etz Limon (2008)

Lemon Tree - Etz Limon (2008)

Taglines: An analogy on the Gaza strip wall.

he Israeli writer-director Eran Riklis’s film is, one supposes, intended as a modern reworking of the Old Testament story of Ahab, the King of Israel, who covets the vineyard of his neighbour, Naboth the Jezreelite. In this case, however, Ahab is Israel’s defence minister. He has moved into a new house adjoining a lemon grove, a middle-aged Palestinian widow’s only source of income, and insists that the trees be cut down for security reasons.

She fights back, engaging in a hopeless battle, though unlike Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, the minister’s wife sympathises with the handsome widow. This is a highly effective, if somewhat schematic depiction of the daily insults, injuries and injustices visited by Israel and its agents upon the Palestinians, and it ends on a pessimistic note. As the widow’s lawyer says to the press: ‘If this were a Hollywood movie, there would be a happy ending.

Lemon Tree (Hebrew: עץ לימון‎, translit. ‘Etz Limon; Arabic: شجرة ليمون‎) is a 2008 Israeli drama film directed by Eran Riklis and co-directed by his cousin Ira Riklis. It stars Hiam Abbass, Ali Suliman, Danny Leshman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavi, Lana Zreik and Amnon Wolf. The film describes the legal efforts of a Palestinian widow to stop the Israeli Defense Minister, her next door neighbor, from destroying the lemon trees in her family farm. At the same time, she develops a human bond with the minister’s wife.

Lemon Tree - Etz Limon (2008)

It was released in Israel on 27 March 2008, and it received a tepid response from Israeli audiences. It was released internationally through IFC Films on 17 April 2009. From there, the film has achieved critical success and it has received nominations for several awards such as Best Actress and Best Screenwriter at the 21st European Film Awards.

Director Eran Riklis covered personal relationships between Arabs and Middle Eastern Jews in his previous films The Syrian Bride and Cup Final. The former film, which also starred Hiam Abbass, achieved widespread success in Israel as well as with international audiences after its 2004 release. This boosted Riklis’s expectations for the future.

The plot of Lemon Tree was based on a real life incident. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz moved to the border within Israel and the occupied territories and security forces began cutting down the Lemon trees beside his house, arguing that it could be used by terrorists as a hiding place. The Palestinian family who owned the trees sued the minister and took the case all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. They lost, and their trees had to be cut down. Riklis watched a news blurb about the case online. He then developed the story further in a fictional setting. Riklis explicitly designed the protagonist’s part for actress Hiam Abbass.

The characters in the film speak Arabic and Hebrew. Riklis’ personal company, Eran Riklis Production, filmed the movie. It was shot in the cities of Kalkilya and Ramallah and the Jalazone refugee camp as well on location at and around the Supreme Court of Israel building in Sha’arey Mishpat Street, Jerusalem. Salon.com film critic Andrew O’Hehir has commented, “Riklis forges into areas other Israeli filmmakers won’t venture.”

Riklis designed the film to be essentially apolitical, focusing on character development rather than exploring the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has said that he created a ‘fairy tale quality’ to the film in which the audience can sympathize with all of the people featured in it. He stated that “I wanted to populate this film with a lot of faces and give each character their own moment of grace, even when, on the surface, it’s one of the ‘bad guys,’ so to speak… This film does address the ugly side of occupation perhaps, yet no blood is spilled.” A fictional representation of the Israeli-West bank barrier punctuates the film throughout.

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Lemon Tree - Etz Limon Movie Poster (2008)

Lemon Tree – Etz Limon (2008)

Directed by: Eran Riklis
Starring: Hiam Abbass, Doron Tavory, Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavi, Amnon Wolf, Hili Yalon, Ayelet Robinson, Liron Baranes, Smadar Jaaron
Screenplay by: Suha Arraf, Eran Riklis
Production Design by: Miguel Markin
Cinematography by: Rainer Klausmann
Film Editing by: Tova Asher
Costume Design by: Rona Doron
Music by: Habib Shadah
Distributed by: IFC Films
Release Date: March 27, 2008