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City of Oranges: Arabs and Jews in Jaffa [Paperback]

Adam LeBor
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Jan 2007
Jaffa - famed for its orange groves - was for centuries a city of traders, merchants, teachers and administrators, home to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. That is, until the founding of the state of Israel, which was simultaneously a moment of jubilation for the Jews and a disaster - the Naqba - for the 100,000 Arabs who fled Jaffa in 1948. Through the stories of six families - three Arab and three Jewish - Adam LeBor delicately illuminates the complexity of modern Israel, going beyond the media stereotypes and political rhetoric to tell a moving human story. From the Christian Arab car-dealer, the Jewish coffee-and-spice merchant and the Arab baker who makes bread for the whole community, to the Jewish schoolgirl who befriends an Arab drug dealer, these people strive to make a life in a country born of conflict.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (2 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747586020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747586029
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 711,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Manages to tell each of their stories without condemnation' -- Rebecca Seal, Observer

`Outstanding ... an excellent and courageous book' -- Mark Cocker, Guardian

From the Author

There are libraries full of books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but City of Oranges is the first non-fiction work to recount the human story of those who have experienced the century-long struggle, from both sides simultaneously.

The narrative is built around six families from the ethnically-mixed city of Jaffa: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews; Muslim and Christian Arabs. The families are working class and middle class, left wing, right wing and apolitical, in short, human beings in all their complexities and contradictions.

The book is based on many hours of interviews with several generations, their recollections of parents and grandparents, their memoirs, letters and personal archives. This innovative structure, keeping real people to the forefront, brings a vivid immediacy, while the politics, wars and diplomacy provide the necessary backdrop. The focus on Jaffa itself, a millennia-old port that now borders Tel-Aviv, brings a powerful sense of place.

Here are exile and return, destruction and construction, births and funerals - the staging posts of lives both fulfilled and torn apart. The reader sees the same episodes from both sides of the conflict, as the narrative cuts back and forth between the protagonists’ stories. The 1948 Israeli Independence war/Palestinian Naqba (tragedy); the 1967 Six Day War; the 1973 Yom Kippur War, right up to the 2000 Al-Aqsa intifada and its impact on Jaffa are all told through the lives of the families.

We see the Naqba through the experience of a young boy called Hasan Hammami, who together with his family, flees Jaffa in April 1948. But the Palestinian tragedy looks very different on the other side of the front-lines. We witness the exultation of Yoram Aharoni, a Bulgarian Jew and member of the extremist Stern Group, as the state of Israel is declared. But the struggle started in 1948 remains unresolved. In the 1967 Six Day War, Yoram is hunched inside an Israeli tank in the Sinai desert as the shells crash around him. Hasan, now a grown man, exiled in Saudi Arabia, is in anguish over the fate of his daughters at school in Jerusalem. So the book continues, right up to the present day, its vivid storytelling humanising a conflict too often related through politics and diplomacy. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 11 Jan 2006
City of Oranges is a refreshingly balanced account of the modern history of Jaffa and the birth of the Jewish state.
LeBor's eye for detail and the rich family accounts bring the story to life, turning a historical account into a thoroughly enjoyable read. Reading about the lives of the six families and their truly amazing experiences manages to personalize the Isreali-Palestinian conflict.
It's an innovative approach that makes this book worth reading for anyone interested in Israel/Palestine.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars City of Oranges 20 Feb 2006
By Mhm
City of Oranges is must reading for anyone with even a glint of interest in the Middle East, and should be required text for those working the policy desks at Whitehall or Foggy Bottom. Lebor's City of Oranges adds a rich layer of oral history and substance to today's headlines. Coming on the heals of Lebor's lauded biography of Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, City of Oranges is his most thought provoking work to date.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 28 Feb 2006
In this vividly written book the tale of the lives of 6 families from Jaffa is told through the events in Palestine and Israel from 1920 to 2000. The families include Christian Arab notables, Muslim aristocracy, a large Sephardi clan and Ashkenazi refugees from Europe. This is the tale of Israel in microcosm as told through this community and its sister city of Tel Aviv. The book is strong on understanding the inner workings of the Arab and Jewish communities, the many cleavages and changes coming about in this period. Here we see Muslim and Christian Arab women shedding the veils and housework to become independent, we see Arab notables visiting Jewish prostitutes in Tel Aviv, we see the unending struggle for land and political supremacy and then we see the great folly of 1948, the Arab aggression and subsequent flight. The tale examines the lives of Arabs who became refugees, those who fled and returned and those who refused to flee. We see the inter-Arab infighting and accusation of collaboration. We see the Jewish ambivalence to the flight of their neighbors, but we also see poignant stories of Arabs and Jews helping each other down through generations.
This book captures well many of the aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It also captures the spirit of the times and changes in society. It shows how the rich Arabs of Jaffa were defeated in their nationalist rhetoric by the proletarian Jews of Tel Aviv. It shows how mob violence drove these communities apart. It shows how the post war era in Israel shaped up, how poor immigrant refugee Jews were driven from the Arab countries and housed in the former lands of Arabs who themselves became refugees. The author does a great job of interweaving history with the simple events of everyday life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much balanced as equally unbalanced 27 Jun 2008
By Jezza
Adam Le Bor's heart is in the right place. The oral history aspects of this are great. As a former Zionist, I was especially struck by the image of the Arab jaffa-ites flight from the city in boats, under fire from Jewish artillery.

It's not an authoritative history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, so it's a bit annoying that he feels the need to put such big slabs of 'what happened next'. Surely by now everyone who is interested knows what happened in the six day war? And if not, is this the way for them to learn about it.

And he has a funny idea about balance too. I'd fully expect an oral history approach to tell the story from the participants' perspective - no problems with that. But sometimes the authorial voice seems to do the same thing, so that he's both Zionist and anti-Zionist at the same time.

Still, this is an enjoyable, interesting, warm and informative book, and well worth reading.
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