Today is my last day here and as a good bye to the house where we stay I do a “tour” around it. It is a neighbours’ building and the most interesting part of it is the flat roof. The drums containing the water that is supplied to all the block neighbours are kept here.

We can see the top of other roofs from here, and some are higher up than this one, all are Palestinian. In one of those higher roofs there is an outpost of the Israeli army, with its sentry box and a kind of curtain that seems like a fishing net, only it is of a military green colour. K. explains the roof is illegally occupied, but with no recognised authority to appeal to, there is absolutely nothing the family that lives there can do to try and stop it.

K. also points to a pair of water drums left there in a corner, on our roof. Both have holes which are obviously caused by bullets.

K. explains that the soldiers (or maybe the settlers, who are also armed) seem to be terribly bored and sometimes they entertain themselves shooting at the drums, leaving them useless. The families living in the houses then loose their water supply for days or weeks, however long it takes them to replace the drums – days, weeks… Fig 34

Looking down on the street, downstairs, we can see, apart from the military checkpoints, which we also see when we are at their level, something we don’t tend to pay much attention to, but which from here is so distinctive: the street raised just next to the entrance of the houses. K. explains that it is just one more of the humiliations. It is done with one of those machines that in a normal country are used when a pipe below the concrete asphalt needs to be repaired. Here the machine arrives, raises the street, repairs nothing and leaves the street raised for good, leaving the inhabitants of that house embittered, having to climb up the debris whenever they need to leave and enter their house. Sometimes the family can afford the luxury of fixing it. Some times, they can’t.

We do the morning “round” like every day. I go to the lower street, where I don’t see soldiers, as they are at either end of the street and my “post” is in the middle.

After the morning shifts and breakfast, I go to the lower street on my way to the tomb-with-mirrors-like checkpoint, and towards the live part of the city.

There aren’t usually any more soldiers than necessary, but today we see a military vehicle loaded with soldiers, on the very street where Palestinians are not allowed to circulate other than on bikes or donkeys. The soldiers stare at us from the rear window of the vehicle and smile with sarcasm as they wave us good bye. They do not usually do this but I guess the incident a few days back seemed fun to them and they have recognised me.

From here I am going to Kawawis. D., J., A. and others have already been there. It some times sounds like “kawawis”, other times like “Kaa-o-ees” and others like “kwiz”, depending on who pronounces it. It is too small to start asking for a service right to that town from here; I need to ask for one to Yatta and then change there.

My first “stop” is the centre of Hebron, where I have to find a taxi service to Yatta. Once in the taxi zone, I ask about and a man who speaks English answers with a question: “You are going to Kawawis, aren’t you?” “Yes. How do you know?” “All the foreigners that ask to go to Yatta, are actually going to Kawawis”. Of course. I am not the first one and will not be the last one. He gets me a taxi and I leave.

The journey is incident free, there is not even any checkpoints that make us get off the taxi. Until we approach Yatta. An Israeli settler drives his car like mad, not respecting the Palestinian sign of “stop”, almost killing a bunch of Palestinian school girls and then waving furiously at the Palestinian driver that had actually stopped to avoid an accident.

Once in the main street of Yatta, which is full of Palestinian boys and men, I go from shop to shop buying food, trying to ensure that I am buying enough food for the three days that I am staying there. I have been told that Kawawis is only a handful of houses, with no shops.

A man with a beard approaches me: “To Kawawis? Yes? I take you”. By the time he has finished the sentence a circle of about ten men has formed around us. The guy tells me he’ll take me for twenty five shekels; I was told it would be about five, so I tell him that I’ll think about it, but it’s not like I have lots of options, since it is the only taxi that I can see around here. I buy some more food, which he helps me buy and carry, and we get on his van. It is the first time in Palestine that I get on a taxi on my own.

He takes me through roads full of irregular stone piles and roadblocks, which are basically pairs of stone blocks of about one to two cubic metres, planted in the middle of the roads in order to make motor transport impossible. He can hardly drive the van through them. At one point he shouts above the deafening noise of the engine and the stones under the tyres: “This road – destroyed by Israel!”. Which is a very useful observation because, without this information, it would be easy to simply assume that no road ever existed, nor the intention to build one, and what we are doing is just following the trail of previous drivers, or that some one started to build a road but then half way through these stones fell on it and then could not finish it off…

The road is cut short by a perfectly asphalted road and the van has to stop here. It is like most Israeli roads, blocking Palestinian roads, leaving people isolated. It seems that this one did go all the way to Kawawis before, because a stony trail similar to this one can be seen at the other side of the Israeli road, all the way to a bunch of houses that I imagine is Kawawis. But now Kawawis is totally isolated and it is only possible to get there on foot.

The taxi driver starts to walk with me but when he sees that I am walking straight to the Israeli road he apologises: “Dangerous”, he says. I perfectly understand. He can get nowhere near it. As the potential terrorist that he is, and since Palestinian life is not worth very much here, his mere presence near an Israeli highway would amply justify a shot in his head.

So there I go, with my hair down as “proof” that I am not a Palestinian, therefore not a terrorist, therefore they can not going kill me and easily get away with it.

Once on the verge of the road I should see L., who will get this same taxi to get to Yatta.

Trucks, big coaches, cars, some military vehicles… all travel at high speed on this road that is not cut short by anything or anybody. I imagine their passengers must wonder where the hell I have come out from and where the hell I am going.

L. and I finally see each other in the distant and run to meet. She shows me the house where I will stay and gives me the key. I take her to the taxi and she gets on the taxi with all her stuff. I am left alone in what feels like the middle of nowhere. There is no indication of life apart from the tracks of the taxi on the stony trail, now empty, at the other side of the road, where the taxi left me, and the vehicles that come and go before I can see any passenger inside. At least the sun is still high up, it is not raining and I know where I am going.

I finally cross the road for the last time in a few days, in a moment when no vehicle is coming. At the end of the road, unseen from here, is the illegal Israeli settlement, with its barracks and its death.

L. has told me where the bunch of “houses” where I should go is. Now I have to do a visual and memory exercise because the houses are so similar with the terrain they are almost invisible.

After walking for about ten minutes I arrive near a bunch of buildings not higher than two metres each. The biggest one is dark grey, square; the others are like igloos made of stones. As I go round one of these “igloos” I meet two women, one of them very old and the other one a bit younger, and a man, whose age could be between the ages of the two women. They are sitting on a kind of platform, drinking tea and looking at me.

It feels like they were waiting for me. They welcome me, with the very few words that they can say in English, and they give me the sweetest tea I have ever tasted.

So here I stay, sitting on the floor of this platform, my back pack and my shopping on the ground.

Thanks to their great efforts to speak in English to me, I find out that the oldest woman and the man are a married couple and the youngest woman, H., who appears to be about 50 years old, with some golden teeth and others just missing, is only 30 and is their unmarried daughter.

After two little glasses of tea I point to my things and the key I have been given. They in turn point to the igloo I have just come round from and they stay there, while I get into the “house” for which I’ve given the key. It is made up of stones, one upon another, making up a circular wall, with a canvas covering the only resulting room.

Almost all the “houses” are like this one, or so they seem from outside. This one has several mats and blankets, just enough to sleep here. L. has left some bread and biscuits. Next to the food there is a notebook where people who have been here before me have been writing down “incidents”. They are all about settlers abusing the Palestinians and soldiers not doing anything about it; one that stands out involves settlers burning a whole field of olive trees.

People have signed what they have written and I recognise some of the names. They are people I have been with, in other places in Palestine, and I can imagine them here, in this very house, or on the platform having tea, or getting up at 6 in the morning, like they write, in order to accompany the older man with the sheep flock. It almost feels like I am here with them all.

I finish reading the note book and as I get to the door to get out I notice the poster on it, hand made, which is a map explaining the area.

There are three settlements. Facing the valley, with your back to the road for Israeli settlers. One is on the right, another on the left, both on mountain tops, and another one also towards the right but behind, at the other side of the road, and this one can not be seen.

The scrawls between the two settlements and Kawawis on the hand-made map indicate an olive trees field and a family’s house, there alone, facing both settlements. If I had come with some one else, one of us would have gone to visit that family so that they don’t feel so alone in the face of danger. But as I have come on my own, instructions are to stay near the bigger group of houses. I can’t go out on visits outside the central group of houses and I can’t go to the fields with the flocks in the morning, as other internationals have done before me. I must stay here to be found easily. In any case, those outings would have been made by a male, not a female volunteer, but that is another story.

As I get out of the “house” I find H. and a young girl sitting on its doorstep, outside. The girl can speak English a bit better than H., and says she is her niece. I invite them to eat with me but they do not understand. H. goes away and her niece stays, and I invite her to come in by signs. I begin to eat and I give her some food, and we eat something together. She asks me for some bread to take to her brother, I give her some, and she asks for some more, now for her sister. I also offer her hummus and she asks me for some biscuits. After a little while she puts a few biscuits in her pockets and she leaves, with the hummus sandwich in one hand and bread alone in the other, and I stay with the certainty that these people are starving.

Because of the scarcity of food here we are told that we should eat on our own instead of eating their food with them, so I continue eating on my own. Shortly afterwards H. comes, telling me, with signs, to go to her house with her. I point at my food and she helps me gather it. It is normally not appropriate to bring food to a house where you are invited. It is considered an offence. It would be like saying to them that they are not worth enough to feed you. But this family receives it with a smile and we all eat their food and mine.

When we finish eating, and after tea, H. does the washing up with a remarkably little amount of water, a strange scourer and a bar of olive oil soap.

I get up in order to go to my cave to sleep but they are not going to allow me: “two, good, one, not good”, which means, I guess: two [can sleep] well [in the little house, but] one [is] no good, [it is too dangerous]. And, although I feel quite uncomfortable with the offer, I don’t feel at all like staying on my own in that cave knowing that the soldiers in the sentry on the top of the hill know that I am the only foreigner here.

So we go to the small house-cave where I am supposed to be staying and we bring the mattresses and blankets that I will be using in their house.

The room where we are going to sleep looks a bit like a multi-purpose room. There is a pile of mattresses in a corner and they take them, one by one, distributing them around the room, against the walls. A boy who looks about twenty has turned up, although, knowing how people grow older here, he might as well be fifteen. He is also a nephew of H. She is always smiling at me, always trying to make as much conversation as we can with our more than limited language skills. She has now started to say that I am her “sister”. Whatever.

H. says her prayers and, again smiling, lies down to sleep on a mattress next to me, with her headscarf on. I look at her expecting to see her hair but no, she doesn’t take her headscarf off. She goes to sleep with exactly the same clothes she walks around in the house and surroundings. Thinking of it, I have not seen a single piece of furniture in this house, so chances are none of them have any other clothes than the ones they have on.