Lesson: The Lemon Tree: the Conflict through Experiences

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Lesson Objective

Students will gain an understanding of the emotional impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on lay people on both sides Students will understand the role of “security” in interactions between the two peoples Students will learn some historical facts behind the struggle through narratives of experience

Lesson Plan


Lesson Name: The Lemon Tree            Course: High School Language Arts by Anke al-Bataineh

Objective:  Students will gain an understanding of the emotional impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on lay people on both sides

Students will understand the role of "security" in interactions between the two peoples

Students will learn some historical facts behind the struggle through narratives of experience

Essential Questions:            (write on board)
(Book) How do people on each side understand their history as related to the land of Historic Palestine?

How are the fates of individuals changed by the realities of the conflict?

(Movie)  How does the conflict affect each side negatively in terms of emotions?

...In terms of economics?

White Board

Class set of books The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

Or Display for DVD of The Lemon Tree


There are two ways to use this very useful title in your Israeli-Palestine unit. I can't say which is better, but the book way works better if you have mostly readers at the 6th grade level or above, and mostly periods longer than 50 minutes. If you don't have one or the other, the movie way might be better for you.


Book "The Lemon Tree"

Give each student a copy on the first or second day of the unit. Establish any expectations about removing the books, sharing, reading procedures, etc. You will want to establish an exact number of minutes per day that will be dedicated to reading, because most chapters wouldn't fit into a 10-20 minute time frame. You might want to select sections to skip in order to move more quickly through the text. It is helpful to the teacher to read the notes on each chapter at the end of the book.


Establish a reading procedure that will keep the group's attention but also move efficiently through the book. I prefer to read alternate paragraphs and call on students at random. At this point in the year, they should be almost perfect at following along, and you should know their reading levels. I often circulate while reading and tap the shoulder of the upcoming reader a sentence or two ahead of time. I explain ahead of time what this might mean. (In my class, this is different from me standing beside you and pointing to the correct spot in your book, which means I see that you are lost or not paying attention.)


Assign two "teams", give those teams assigned spaces on the white board that are not going to be erased throughout the unit, and give them accessible markers. Model and then empower them to get up during the reading and mark on the board. When they learn an important event in the history of the conflict, they should mark it on a big timeline they are building on the board. (I have students write small and run the timeline vertically to save space.) There are two teams and two timelines; these are to record events as the Israelis see them and as the Palestinians see them. For instance, May 15, 1948 is known to the Israelis as the beginning of the "War of Independence," and to the Palestinians as al-Nakba, or "the Catastrophe".  With the reading of the book, the timeline will evolve throughout the unit. You should also use think-aloud techniques to talk explicitly about emotional impacts where the author does not, although the text is very straightforward.


Movie "The Lemon Tree"

The movie is available on DVD or on Netflix Instant Play.  It doesn't need a lot of explanation, but the voices are low so you will want loud volume. It is almost entirely in Arabic and Hebrew (all authentic, spoken by native speakers) with English subtitles.  I find this movie riveting, but it has that foreign film way of boring kids. So, be strategic in where you stop it, trying to stretch their attention spans without letting them miss important events. I stop every 10-15 minutes maximum, sometimes every 5 minutes or so. Use think-aloud strategies to stop and wonder, for example, why would this older woman live alone in a house and why would her children move to the Occupied Territories? Why would people judge her for spending time with the lawyer? How are relationships between genders different between the two cultures? Why is the guard listening to those recordings all the time? Ask students to keep notes in front of them with two sections, one for Negative Effects of the Conflict on Israelis and one for Negative Effects of the Conflict on Palestinians. Remind students that emotions or feeling unheard can be some of the "soft effects" that hurt people, not just physical injury or loss.


As soon as the movie ends, I ask students a final analysis question, which has some punch to it. Do you think Mira trusts Salma? Do you think Salma trusts Mira? Why or why not? I ask this because judgement and distrust have huge roles to play in modern life in this area. The book shows how little contact many Palestinians have with Israelis other than active soldiers (although military service is mandatory for all 18 year olds, male and female), and how narrow a few of Palestinians many Israelis have.


If you show this as a movie, it will likely require more than one class period. However, if time permits, I recommend also showing some complimentary movies, or at least parts of them. My favorites are Rana's Wedding and Paradise Now, both of which are made by an excellent Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Asad, and both are available on Netflix.

Anticipatory Set:         (5 min)
How do you think people on each side of the conflict feel about people on the other side?

Think about the fact that before Jewish immigrants took over areas of Historic Palestine, Palestinians had built houses there. What do you think happened to those houses?

Conclusion/Assessment:         (5- 30min)
(Book ~30 min)

Ask students to page back through the book and make a bullet-point list of all the points on each side: why Palestinians feel they have the right to the land, why Israelis feel they have the right to the land. Circulate and discuss their lists, these can help guide them in the debate. (Push students to lay out Israeli reasoning even if they don't agree with it. Although I am a strong supporter of the Palestinians personally, most students get stuck on the simple logic of "they were already there first" without my influence. They need to see that for Zionists around the world, the project of Israel feels urgent and vital.)


(Movie ~5 min)

Ask a student to record on the board while the class lays out, in bullet point form, the justifications of Israelis for wanting to take land (for the wall, etc) and the objectives of Palestinians who want to keep them land. If there is time, allow a discussion of how students feel about this.






Vocab to Watch Out For:



Historic Palestine (as opposed to Eretz Israel, Wikipedia can help you here)

Lesson Reflection:

What went well?

What would you change?

What needs explanation?

Students hung in there for some of the quieter parts of the movie, supported by my interjections and commentary. They adjusted a bit to the pace of foreign films, although it's not their preference. It did make them reflect on the extremes Hollywood will go to to get their attention! And they didn't need assistance in pulling out key points, the ideas were very clear.

I tell them ahead of time about the expectations for women in Arab society, otherwise they miss the whole illicit nature of the love story and get confused and distracted by it. Explaining it away helped them focus on the bigger story in the film. In this vein, I talk before each movie about what is "illicit" in it so that they get it, but don't get hung up on it. These are moving personal stories, but we are dredging them for their political context, more importantly.

In my research and experience, this movie is an incredibly accurate depiction of a very common legal (or illegal, one could argue) proceeding. However, it should be emphasized to students that the woman's appeal is heard in this story because of whose house she is next to, and the Minister is portrayed as pretty decent, so she is not personally threatened. This makes for a particularly balanced story where both sides can be seen and felt. Most Palestinians who lose their land never have any say or get any concession or compensation.


Lesson Resources

Lemon Tree   Lesson Plan
The Lemon Tree on Netflix
Rana's Wedding on Netflix
Paradise Now on Netflix


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