Today we go to place that is much harder to reach. Besides, only four internationals remain with me in this village now, because there is some important demonstrations that needs to be supported somewhere else and they have all gone there. Of those four, two are finishing their stay in the country today and they are going back to their countries, and the rest need a rest. We are considering going back to Jerusalem, because in this flat we are asked not to have showers, because the water pipes are so bad. We have had soil stuck to our clothes and our clothes stuck to our skin for a few days now; it has been boiling hot every day and it seems like a good idea to go back to Jerusalem to have a good shower, a good rest and a good drink.

For these reasons, two new guys come today to stay for a few days, D. and S. They arrive just in time to take the eight am taxi and get on it with their sleeping bags and ruck sacks because they will sleep there tonight, because between the journey back tonight and there again tomorrow morning they would have to spend about four hours travelling and it makes sense to stay there.

The reason why this journey takes two hours is not the distance. In fact the place where we are going must be about twenty minutes away by car. But there is a military checkpoint on that road, and it seems that the traffic jam it produces delays the journey for about four hours, if not more.

There is also an asphalted road – Palestinian roads in general as made of soil and dust – and has no checkpoints, but it is of the exclusive use of Israeli settlers and soldiers.

The previous days the taxi has always taken us up to a point where the road turns into a mountain [goats’] path, and is no longer a dusty or muddy road, in such a way that can only be used on foot. Today, the road does not seem to finish at the spot where the driver stops; it seems to go on. Only there seem to be no more houses in the village we have gone through. We say goodbye and continue walking the road until we end up in an open field. Once there we are in full view of an Israeli settlement on the top of the hill, which is of course next to an army barrack. This is why the taxi driver stopped before. If he gets in view of the settlement or barrack, he and his taxi are in danger of being shot – the excuse being, a Palestinian (therefore a potential terrorist) being with a vehicle too close to Israeli population.

Indeed, we can now see that the road is cut short, this time by a trench like those used in the war, which is at least a kilometre long (fig 11) The bottom of the trench is full of rubbish and debris. We go down the trench in order to cross it, get through all the rubbish as we can and we get back up on the other side of the trench, and we go on walking. What is left of the road goes through fields with no trees, except one grove where there are small olive trees, newly planted.

The soil is very stony, like other soils on which we have picked up olives. We cross a perfectly asphalted road – one of those for exclusive Jewish use (fig 12)- and when we reach the next road, this time dusty and without asphalt, we find that a taxi van is waiting for us.

This taxi leaves us at the door of a public building that could be the town hall or a school. There are posters on the walls that explain how to proceed to vote. We are invited into an office and more and more men come in and talk in Arabic. Suddenly they stop talking and one of them tells us in English that he is the Mayor, and asks us where we are from. “From the USA”, one responds. The mayor smiles and says in a basic English, “with the people from America… very good, but with Bush…” and he makes a funny face, and we all smile. “From Spain” – to which he answers, “Aznar…” and he makes the same face.

We may have the image of this people being ignorant and only knowing what is happening to them, living isolated from the world, self-centred in their problems, without communications, with their thick moustaches and their dark skins, and then it turns out they know the names of the presidents of all the countries we come from. Which we don’t.

After a few minutes of waiting another man turns up on the door and we all get up. This is the farmer we are to help out today. He will take us up to wherever he can manage with an old 4×4 and from there we will continue on foot.

Once up in the mountain, we see down there at the bottom of the hill a kind of road with a fence on one side and an army jeep parked. A uniformed and armed soldier is next to it. The soldier calls us as loud as he can and the Palestinian answers, in English, that we have permission to pick up olives for three days. It seems that this is a good enough answer and we start picking olives, but after a few minutes he calls us again and we realise that there are two soldiers advancing towards us, with their weapons and all. D. and S. climb down to talk to them to tell them that we do have a permit. They make them wait near the jeep while they make a few phone calls to check whether we are saying the truth.

When they are satisfied, D. and S. come back with us and we go on working, advancing towards the most “dangerous” part of the grove, next to a fence. As we approach it, we realise that this fence separates Palestinian lands from the lands that now belong to the Israeli settlement that is on the top of the hill, about eight hundred metres from where we stand. Within that space, there are two other fences separating both zones – three fences in total to protect the illegal Israeli settlement from the Palestinian legitimate owners of the land.

Sometimes the protective fences have electronic sensors. Ten minutes after climbing the closes tree to the fence, an army jeep comes up the path on the other side of the fence. It goes up and down a few metres various times and then it leaves. Five minutes later the army jeep comes back, this time followed by another jeep, a white one. Several men come out of the vehicles, some in military uniforms, others in plain clothes, all with machine guns. One of those in plain clothes tells a comrade of us to get close. She hesitates – the rule is not to speak to the settlers because we are with Palestinians who do not speak English, and they do not know what we may be telling them; they can only see a friendly conversation with the very people that steal their olives, beat them up and kill them with impunity.

But the man in plain clothes has a weapon and repeats his order, so my comrade walks towards him. He asks her where she is from. She hesitates again, but decides that saying the name of the country she comes from will not do any hard, so she says it.

The guy then asks for her name, and this time she’s not having it. The man then says he’s coming in a friendly way and that he wants to offer her biscuits. She refuses politely and he says, laughing, that they are not poisoned. What I don’t quite understand is how a man armed with a machine gun with live ammunition can say this to a woman who is not armed and who is here precisely as a consequence of the crimes committed by armed men like him against disarmed people.

A pretty silly conversation follows about how ignorant we are because, as we just pick up olives, we can only see one side of the coin, “… which, by the way, it does have two sides, you know?” And that we do not understand that the Jews need to defend themselves from the Palestinian terrorists, because the Jewish, at the end of the day, are only good people who have all the right to this land because they have been living up there, in the settlement, no less than twenty years.

D. goes to speak with the Palestinian couple we are helping. They have long ago walked away from the fence, in panic of the settlers. The Palestinian man can only manage to say “you, here”, and we understand that he wants us to walk away from the armed men and gather with him. We leave the tree where we are with regret because it is truly full of olives – although it is pretty impossible to climb to the highest branches due to the lack or pruning because of the years they could not come, probably because of harassments like today’s. Who knows what this settler would have done if the ones climbing the trees had been Palestinians instead of foreigners from the rich world.

We start to gather our backpacks to leave,making sure that no one leaves without their bag and no bag is left here. Suddenly a bunch of children appear on the scene, next to the cars. With very aggressive faces, they start to scream at us: “I’m gonna kick your ass!”, “aaahhh ha haha ha, you are all leaving now, you have to leave, we’ve won, you’re gone!”

As I walk away, the last thing I hear just before they throw the first stone is “I hope you die!!”. The friend who wanted a friendly conversation is nowhere to be seen, and so are the soldiers. The children continue to throw us big stones, reaching pretty long distances. I take out my camera and they start moving, getting out of my field of vision, hiding behind trees standing between them and me. It shows they are very experienced in hiding from cameras. While we walk away and further away from the fence, we can still hear the children laughing, and the stones are still raining towards us, but we are no longer within a reaching distance.

As we walk back down the hill a few women and a few more men join us, one of them on a donkey. It looks like they have been waiting for us the whole time, expectant and too afraid to climb up themselves. They put various sacks full of olives on the donkey and a boy rides it away. Then we come up to a parked van and the men put the rest of the sacks, almost empty, in it, and they invite us to get in. They give us refreshments in cans of a well-known multinational brand and I can only notice in private the absurdity of supporting this – or any other – brand that behaves the way this one does while we are doing what we are doing.

They take us to the town hall, where we were at the beginning. There are more men there and some elderly people join us. They shake hands with all of us and the one who speaks English tells us that they want us to eat with them and their families. When I am already accepting – as refusing would be a bit less than an offence in most cases – we remember that it has taken us two hours to get here, and if we are lucky it will take us another two to get back. If we start to accept an invitation now, and given the concept of time that these people have, it can easily get dark before we start walking, and walking in the dark through the paths we used to come here is definitely not a good idea. Besides, D. and S. are staying in this town and they can accept the invitation for us. We then say goodbye to them, and they get us a taxi.

The taxi comes loaded with more people from Balata that are coming with us. We accommodate ourselves in the taxi guessing that this time we will have to use the length of the road, going through the checkpoint that can take between two and four hours of waiting in the queue.

However, in a given moment in the middle of the journey, one of the passengers gives some money to the driver and tells him to stop. The taxi driver stops. The man tells us that it is better for us to get off here and he opens the door for us. We get off and I realise that we are in the very same place where the last taxi took us on before, so we only have to go back the same way we came this morning. So this is what has happened: this man, who looks more humble than us, has paid our fare and has put us in a safe place so that we can go on without going through the unpleasant moment in the checkpoint, giving us the very privilege he can not afford himself.

If the Palestinians dared walk across the fields to avoid the checkpoint, the soldiers would shoot at them from the outpost, on the mountain top. But we are foreigners and white.

So there they go, to the checkpoint, where they will be held for, who knows, two, three hours … while they wait to be allowed to pass – if they are allowed at all. I look at the man full of thankfulness without words, and the man looks back at me with a smile; we all say goodbye with a last nod and, feeling a knot in my throat, I throw my bag to my back and start to walk with my colleagues.