It is already dark night when we arrive at the house of the land owner that has asked for international help, known as “Abu A.”, “Father of A.”. It is frequent that people change their name when they have their first male child, to a name like “father of..” and then the name of the first child. A. receives us with a copious dinner that we all needed, and we ask him what the situation is like in here. “You want to know what the situation is here? I will tell you what is the situation here, in a moment”.

When we finish our dinner he takes us to a living room and he searches his papers for pictures of bulldozers uprooting his centenary olive trees, and maps of his lands with the local annexation wall, isolating the village from its lands. A. explains that his lands, and the lands of other farmers, are right on the other side of the wall that the Israeli state keeps building to annexe more and more extensions of land illegally and strangling the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinian families; between, that is, that annexation barrier and the line that keeps being referred to as “The Green Line”, established by the United Nations as the frontier between the current state of Israel and the future state of Palestine.

There are several gates, all numbered, along this fence, guarded by soldiers of the Israeli army. No inhabitant from the village can use the gate that stands on the shortest way to their land. The soldiers do not say the reason, but there are already terrains excavation works, preparing for the construction of new houses, expanding the Israeli settlement on the other side, which should not be there in the first place. This is what they uprooted A.’s trees for. Later they have been re-planted in the Israeli settlement.

The fact is, up until a few years ago, A. and other farmers did have permission to use this gate, although not with tractors – so people had to go back to using donkeys, thus going a step backwards in rural development. Now they have to use the next gate down the fence. Which means a twenty seven kilometres journey to that gate, plus the twenty seven kilometres to come back once on the other side – on a donkey or on foot. An hour and a half journey to go round the fence instead of a few minutes walk through the gate right next to the illegal expansion of the illegal settlement.

The result is that those who have to walk or ride that distance on their donkeys can hardly ever go to their own lands. Then there are the more fortunate cases. A. has a tractor that is allowed to go through the gate, but he also has various sons, who are not allowed into his land at all. Formerly, he also had employees. But now whoever wants to see to those lands from the Palestinian side needs a special permission from the Israeli authority that is only conceded to those who can prove that they are the owners of the land and have never been arrested. This leaves out all the sons of A. and all his employees. It also keeps him away from any political demonstration, because they usually arrest “uncomfortable” people in demonstrations. If he is arrested just once he will loose the permission to work on his land, and with it, his land itself, and then his still-non-existent-country will have lost part of the territory that the United Nations has “guaranteed” it, once it exists, because it will have been confiscated by the Israeli state “legally”. This is the most comfortable way of confiscating land “legally”: they arrest the proprietor, they revoke his permit to enter his land, and because the land is unattended, it is confiscated with the Ottoman law.

A. has been talking to us for a few hours now. He stops for just a moment for his words to sink in and J. reflects on this more or less with these words: “So, only those who can prove that they own the land are allowed to enter the area that stands between the legal wall and the illegal wall, which are about six kilometres apart in this area. If one of these people has ever been arrested then they will have no right to access their own land, no matter how many generations this land has belonged to your family or how much your own survival depends on the labour of the land. This access permit means that the farmers can not even hire workers to help them work on the land, which makes them become full time farmers if they do not want the Israeli authorities to confiscate their land. This makes them totally dependent on the produce of their harvest.”

And now A. tells us they are not even allowed to sell their mandarins and other fruits in Israeli territory or in their own village. Which, after making themselves completely dependant on the produce of their lands if they do not want to loose territory of their future country in favour of the occupying military force, leaves them without any income. Maybe some look for a job to survive this situation. Not an easy task where unemployment is about 60%, where the economy is completely squeezed by the occupying forces, and where those forces have not allowed the occupied population any freedom of movement to find work elsewhere – for decades.

In this context, the Israeli government is using a law created during the Ottoman Empire according to which if a land owner does not tender his land in three years, that land can be confiscated – the Israeli government interprets this as “becomes Israeli property”. I guess this is where we international come to play; at least we turn up form time to time on these lands, using our privilege as Israelis or foreigners, helping out in the olive harvest and other fruits, to at least avoid confiscation of land using this law.

My own reflection is: “in a normal country, if some one has his land confiscated by the state, it is a personal and economical drama. But here, when the Israeli state confiscates land to a Palestinian in the territory under the occupation, that land goes to Israeli territory, that is, to another country. Politisation of private life. A private robbery made into a political robbery. Two robberies left unpunished.

A. continues his simple speech: This has not been done in this area yet, among other reasons, because the local people have resisted against the theft of land with this and other methods for a long time. A. has sold all his valuables, including his wife’s jewels, in order to pay for lawyers to appeal the illegal confiscation of his lands and other illegal actions of the Israeli authorities. Right now, the works in the land where his trees were uprooted are stopped – in theory, and only for now – because A. has proven, in Israeli courts, that this land is his and that the Israeli government has no right to expand the settlement in the land where his trees have been uprooted. However, just a few days ago he has seen bulldozers working and explosions that tear off the soil and the rock and make excavation easier (the hole/opening/face seen is already quite respectable – Fig 14).

What the Israeli authorities usually do is build the settlement while the court proceedings are slowly taking place (it can be years), and, when the sentence is pronounced, they allege something called “facts on the ground”, which means something like, as the houses are already built and there are people already living inside, and it would cost a lot to demolish them and evict their occupiers, as a lesser evil things stay as they are, and the legal process is effectively nullified. Apparently these “facts on the ground” are, or have been, supported by the USA government in international negotiations.

After this very long conversation, A. takes us to the house where we will spend the night, with the family that we will help tomorrow.

We accommodate ourselves with this family that also offers us dinner, while the sons and daughters watch a film from the United States with subtitles in Arabic on tv. The sitting room consists of a mattress – two more when we arrive – and a matting on the floor acting as table. At once the place is filled with little plates where we all dip bread, made right there and then by the mother of the family.

The father, F., and his nephew, H., speak to us in English, as well as another man, older, who introduces himself as F.’s uncle. His English is more basic than the others’ and he is the only one who wears a handkerchief over his head like Arafat used to do. He tells me stories about his childhood, specially about the amount of land his father used to own, and which the Israeli government has illegally confiscated. He also tells me that when he was a child he used to go to school with A., but that his parents could not afford to send him to university, and that is the reason why his English is not as good as A.’s.

There are at least eight or nine children in the house; it is difficult to count them because they are all playing and moving around. It looks like there are only two rooms in the house so accommodating us is not the easiest task in the world. The boys will sleep with the father in the living room and I will stay in the couple’s room, with the mother and the youngest child, who by now is already in bed, with the light on.

They tell us where the toilet is and we use it, one by one. By later conversations I learn that we all, one by one, looked for the toilet sit, thinking that they were pulling our leg or that there had been a serious misunderstanding. After some time of disconcerted search we saw the hole in the floor, with two small platforms, the size of a foot each of them, one on each side. The boys were astonished at the precariousness of the situation. I do remember having to use a toilet like this far back in my childhood, and my grandma taught me how to use it; it was what she had known as a toilet for most of her life.

After using the toilet we go to our rooms. They explain to us that, although we can plug our batteries to recharge them, they will only be actually recharging for a few hours, because there is no electricity during the night. I go to the parents’ room and the mother offers me to sleep in the bed, where the youngest child is already sleeping. I have to refuse various times and she puts a mattress on the floor for me. I settle down between the blankets, still with the light on, and I wait for the good lady to come to the room to sleep. Time goes on and she doesn’t come, so I get up and switch off the light to sleep. Right then the child wakes up and starts crying. I switch the light back on and shortly afterwards I fall asleep, with the light still on and, when I wake up at four in the morning, the light is off – there will be no electricity until eight.