City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa

Adam LeBor

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A profoundly human take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seen through the eyes of six families, three Arab and three Jewish.

The millennia-old port of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, was once known as the "Bride of Palestine," one of the truly cosmopolitan cities of the Mediterranean. There Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived, worked, and celebrated together―and it was commonplace for the Arabs of Jaffa to attend a wedding at the house of the Jewish Chelouche family or for Jews and Arabs to both gather at the Jewish spice shop Tiv and the Arab Khamis Abulafia's twenty-four-hour bakery. Through intimate personal interviews and generations-old memoirs, letters, and diaries, Adam LeBor gives us a crucial look at the human lives behind the headlines―and a vivid narrative of cataclysmic change. 

As any student of the Middle East can attest, there's almost no way to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with objectivity; virtually every word about it comes weighted with ideology or political mission. But English journalist LeBor (the Times) has achieved the near-impossible. While ostensibly telling the story of one town, he sketches the tale of Israel's birth and concomitant Palestinian nakba (catastrophe), with the knotted lives of Jaffa's Arab and Jewish residents serving as a humanizing lens. Though not a rigorous academic study, this history encompasses both the familiar (nonstop wars) and the lesser-known (Syria's 1949 peace overtures). Dotted with delightful period details, it gives individual opinion free rein, reporting contradictions without judgment. The history of both peoples is marked by trauma and courage, and neither side has really managed to listen to the other—because, LeBor notes, "any recognition of each other's losses is a kind of surrender in the endless battle for memory as well as territory." He quietly condemns the worst excesses of both sides—Israeli occupation, Palestinian corruption, Israeli racism, Palestinian suicide terrorism—and comes down on the side of compromise. Some readers will noisily object, but those looking for a well-rounded and truly human insight into the conflict will enjoy this account.

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