LIKE children the world over, five-year-old Ramiz has a weakness for flickering screens. He spends hours watching Walt Disney cartoons, helpfully dubbed into Arabic. But Ramiz also enjoys bedtime stories from his grandmother about the events that are supposed to have taken place in the stony fields around his house at least 3,000 years ago.

His granny, a bustling Palestinian Christian housewife, is a talented narrator. She tells him about smooth-skinned Jacob and his hairy twin Esau—and of the cunning ruse by which Jacob tricked their blind father Isaac into mistaking one son for another, and so secured a paternal blessing. As the hazy light, refracting off pale stone houses and potholed roads, gradually fades, this snippet of local lore sounds as though it happened yesterday.