When we moved into this house, there was an ugly stump of a lemon tree in the garden, twisted, scarred and nearly branchless and leafless, less than a meter high. As we settled into the house, I planned to tear out the little stump and plant something worthy. Frumit vetoed that and I was stuck with this eyesore in the middle of the front yard. Turns out, the little guy had a lot of fight in him. For eleven years, I have poured water into the roots of my friend the lemon tree, trimming him as he grows and reaches for the sunlight that peeks in over the hedge in the afternoon. When our supply of plump supermarket lemons is gone, we step outside to pluck one his crinkle-skinned, small lemons. Today, he towers over the hedge and the front porch, looking robust. Do we wonder if the grass is greener on our neighbor’s lawn? No, we know the grass is greener where we water it.
We, the gardeners of the future, see the blazing summer heat as nature’s way of throwing down a glove, challenging us to awaken and take care of what is quickly deteriorating before our eyes. We cower in our air-conditioners and try not to think about the sea-level atolls in the Pacific that will be first to be flooded by the rising sea, and we don’t think about 110 degree heat in Jericho. As the occupation rumbles into its 51st year, this heat is everywhere, God is mad this summer. Mad enough to reshuffle the cards, bringing us Avi Gabai, surprise victor in the Labor Party’s primaries, bringing freshness to the scene. He has so far not fully defined himself, but he offers something new, and we’re all so sick of more of the same. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s shady swamp of intrigue is steadily sucking him into the quicksand he’s created in our name. Maybe we are getting mad enough to rediscover our willingness to put activist meetings in our datebooks, to initiate alliances and action-projects, to volunteer time and write checks we haven’t been writing.
The alternative to ending the occupation leads to a whirlpool, dragging us down to the deterioration of our democracy and the corruption of the Israel we envision and long for. This week, Judy Maltz reported in Ha’aretz that discharged army officers are running mock-battle fun-parks for tourists, where people get to fire real weapons and are regimented and commanded to do pushups when they’re lagging behind. Business is booming, with this attraction sprouting like mushrooms across the country. The pictures of tough-guy officers in uniform and sunglasses, delivering a shpiel to awestruck Japanese tourists, sickening. If, as Netanyahu has promised, we will live by the sword forever, then we might as well have the sword turn a profit.
There are those of us who still seek and find the Israel we love, the sweet, warm Israelis who love to laugh together and don’t want to hurt anybody. We get together and feel the sorrow and waves of despair that accompany yesterday’s terrorist incident in the Old City, another in an endless succession of attacks and counter-attacks. We watch our prime minister scorning the majority of the world’s Jews, reneging on his promise to give egalitarian streams a platform by the Western Wall. Weary, we look toward more scorching days of these ruthless summer months, and again Israelis are forced to take a stand, to collectively deepen the problem or begin birthing the solutions.
Jerusalem’s evening cool descends, sweet respite from the oven that was mid-day… we’re evaporating more slowly now. I switch on the kettle for tea and step out to the garden to pluck a tough little lemon from our flourishing tree.
Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people engagement