We thought it would be cool to film in an old olive grove in the Galilee. The gnarled trunks and endless rows of trees took us back in time. It was only when we met Moussa that we realized just how far back in time the olives had taken us.
Moussa (Arabic for Moses) noticed our activity in his olive grove. He greeted us without a trace of suspicion, and asked about our identity and subject matter. When we explained our fascination with his ancient trees he said “You haven’t seen anything yet. Come with me.” Chaim and I followed the 70-something Arab Israeli, who was clearly comfortable with the Hebrew language and with us as Jewish Israelis.
He unlocked a tall sliding metal door, revealing a sizeable warehouse, adjacent to the road and to the vast olive grove. “This is just a hobby,” Moussa explained with a smile, proceeding to introduce us to an impressive array of sophisticated machines designed to extract oil from olives. Frankly, I felt like a little kid being shown for the first time how an airplane works. There were mounds of “olive cakes,” the dried dregs from decades of olives being turned into rich oil. On the far wall, our host pointed up toward the ceiling. To our astonishment four huge earthenware containers were displayed, having long been retired from use.
“These vessels represent generation after generation of my family harvesting and processing olives,” Moussa pointed out, with warm, unboastful pride. We stared, trying to absorb the implications of what we were seeing. Here was the peaceful caretaker of olive trees with a history stretching back many centuries. Moussa pointed out that the name of his town, Rama, is similar to the Judean village Ramot referred to in I Samuel 8:4. This remarkably friendly man, as if grown from the very soil of his olive grove, was reaching out to us—enabling us to share in a history, geography, and agriculture that are all essential to our own heritage.
If ever one doubted the possibility of Jews and Arabs living in harmony, sharing a heritage that stretches back centuries and centuries, our time with Moussa dispelled such skepticism. I’m not saying that all of our Arab cousins are like Moussa. Nor am I negating the covenantal promises to the descendants of Jacob. But the Scriptures are also clear that we are to treat with respect the “ger”—the non-Jewish dweller in our land. “The stranger (ger) who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:34). I’m looking forward to visiting Moussa again. In a heart-warming way he connected me at a deeper level with this unique land and its people.
This article originally appeared in Oasis newsletter, May 2017, and reposted with permission.