I wake up when it is still dark and too early to receive any electricity,so there is no light in the room. The mother of the family has got up and dressed; she is praying in a whisper, standing up, next to her bed. When she finishes she opens the door and leaves. I also get up and put the blankets and the mattress in the corner where I think they came from.

We all get up at about half past six in the morning to get as much daylight as possible, without having breakfast. Outside, the nephew, H., whom we met yesterday, joins us.

We all get on the tractor trailer, including the mother and the youngest child. We then head to one of the gates that they now have to use to go to their land. As we arrive to the soldiers’ sentry box I get my camera out to record the moment and both the mother and H. tell me “no” quickly, with their hands and heads.

While F., with some of my comrades, discusses with the soldiers about the reasons why we are not allowed to pass, a lady with a waistcoat with the name EAPPI on it (EAPPI, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) comes back from the gate. She has not been allowed to pass either. She sits down on a stone by the road and she looks at us and writes on a notepad while F. speaks to the soldier.

When we speak to her, after not being allowed through ourselves, she says that the permission-giving “system” (whatever unwritten “system” there is) is not consistent at all, that she has been allowed to pass other days. Right yesterday, for example, some other foreigners like us were allowed to pass. She says that “every soldier is an official”, allowing some people and not allowing others, as they please, in a completely arbitrary way.

She has been documenting all this, as seems to be what EAPPI does at this particular gate. She also tells us that there are two soldiers for each person in the settlement. It seems to confirm that settlements have nothing at all to do with “getting both cultures together”. They are an outright military operation.

And this gates business has nothing to do with security at all – some are allowed, some aren’t, at random, with no criteria. It is just a matter of playing with people’s time and resources, to get them so fed up and disabled that they have no other choice but leave their lands…

All you can do when an armed soldier tells you that you are not going through the gate is shut up and go back, so that is what we do. Worse than that is to see F. speak friendlily with the soldier and shake his hand, but he has to do it because he needs to maintain at least a bit of peace and good relations that will at least allow him to use this gate from time to time, next time the soldier in charge feels good enough about himself and F. that he will allow him.

F. is going to try to get to his land through another gate. That other gate is one of those where only land owners are allowed to pass, so we will need to try yet a different gate, a few kilometres away. A. and F. arrange for a car to take us so we don’t have to walk for hours.

F. leaves us on a busy road and a car collects us ready to take us the next twenty five kilometres until the next gate, while the family gets through the one where only they have permission to pass as land owners.

At the next gate, where our driver was sure he would be allowed to pass in his car, we are not allowed to pass either, and we have to go all the way to the next one – a further fifteen minutes or so by car. Finally we get through to the Israeli side of the wall-fence on foot, and, bordering the Israeli settlement, we finally get to the land where we are going to help out with the harvest.

When we meet the family in their land it has been three hours since we got out of the house. Three hours to cover the distance that, in normal circumstances, used to take twenty minutes – I should say legal circumstances, because this whole fence, with its gate and its systems, is illegal according to the United Nations.

And this is not the end of the journey today. We still have to get to the olive trees we are to work on today. We get on the trailer again and F. takes us through stony paths that make both the tractor and the trailer jump.

For about half an hour we travel next to a road of exclusive use for the Israelis, which is completely flat and perfectly asphalted and lit; nothing to do with the goats’ path we have come jumping. There are also access gates to the fancy road. F. tells us that the fancy road has been constructed over a previously existing one, which was used by every one, including himself and his family. It used to take them ten minutes to cover the distance that is taking us half hour to cover now.

The Israeli road also has a shoulder on each side, double the width of the road itself, made of soil and sand. The function of the perfectly flat sand on the hard shoulder is to record any footsteps of intruders on it, and that it is checked and kept in the best of conditions at least twice a day. Fig 14

Indeed, this road, having a fence on each side, acts as a wall. Up to where we can see, there is a double fence with razor wire on the ground, in such a way that, if you try to cross it, first you get electrocuted with the first fence (or the electronic sensors detect you so that the soldiers can shoot you), then you get wounded with the razor wire, and if you manage to jump the second fence with the barbed wire on it, your steps on the road shoulder give you away.

So in theory all these barriers act as protection against Palestinian terrorists; in practice what is meant is to make life quite impossible for Palestinian farmers like F., who has to travel for two or three hours each time he wants to go to his own land for the whim of some one else’s “security”.

When we finally get to our destination, we are in the land between the “Green Line” and the illegal wall, a band of about six kilometres wide between the internationally agreed border between the states of Israel and Palestine and the wall that the Israeli state is building illegally inside Palestinian territory. The lands belong to Palestinian farmers and the United Nations say that this is Palestinian territory, what should become the Palestinian Country, but the Israeli government says it is Israeli territory, and that is why Palestinians need a special permission from the Israeli authorities to access them. In the Israeli territories where the property of the land is no longer discussed (it was either bought more or less legally or simply stolen, so long ago the United Nations seem to recognise it as Israeli land) streets and roads are more than sufficiently lit. But not these lands. There is not a single lamp here so it is only possible to work while the sun is up. Taking into account that in this time of the year days are shorter than ten hours, that we have lost three of them dealing with the illegal fence, that permissions do not last for as many days as necessary, and that we didn’t have breakfast this morning, F. is in quite a bad mood and willing to make up for the lost time.

While we work, A. and F. seem to realise that it is not practical to waste three hours in the morning and another three in the evening every day just so that we can help them, so they decide that we will stay in a small shed that belongs to A., between the illegal fence and the Green Line. So by the time we get to the shed all our bags, which we had left in F.’s house thinking we would stay there for a few days, are here in the shed.

There is also some dinner on the table and, although it is not as copious as yesterday’s we finish off just as full. There is also hot water prepared for us, from the water tank, heated with a fire underneath it, just outside the shed. The only thing we will lack here is electricity. But we will have other luxuries, like running water inside the house – and, if we want, hot water too – and we will not be hungry. Not all Palestinians have those luxuries.

During dinner A. tells us about the water and its administration in this area. Palestinians have such strict limits in the amount of water they can use from their own wells, that they have to rotate the irrigation of the fields, so some fields are irrigated one year and the rest the second year, while the Israeli settlers use water from these same wells plentifully for their daily use, their swimming pools and their gardens, without having to worry about rotation. Palestinians are not even allowed to drill more wells in their own land. A. sees the total water consumption from his land and he thinks the Israeli settlers waste water, or at least that they use it without control.

We ask him what would happen if he once decided to not respect the limit in water usage, and he answers that the soldiers would simply cut off all the pipes that conduct the water to the lands that are still in Palestinian hands. The Israeli army regularly checks the water consumption by the Palestinians, and have threatened with not allowing them to use any of their own water if they go over the limit they have established. So while the Israeli settlement grows and expands (right now an expansion is being planned), no more wells can be drilled, and the whole area, more than six square kilometres plus the agricultural and domestic consumption by about a hundred houses in the Israeli settlement, operates off just five wells.

Certainly, it is estimated that about a hundred houses are inhabited in the illegal Israeli settlement. But there are about five hundred built houses, says A. It is difficult for me to understand this part but I think he talks about a certain very rich Jewish man who lives abroad and finances houses in future Jewish settlements, without bothering if there is demand for such houses or not. So most of these houses stay empty until some one decides to move in, like the case of the settlement near this land, where only a fifth of the houses are inhabited now.

As if four hundred empty houses were not enough, now there is the plan to build fifteen hundred (1,500) new houses. All this, in land that stands on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. It is for the construction of these houses that A.’s trees were uprooted, and it is for them that the Palestinians are not allowed to use the shortest routes to get into their own land. And we are talking about a settlement that is illegal right from its conception. Personally this seems to me like an exercise of harassment and effective expulsion of Palestinians from their own lands in order to expand the Israeli state without having to buy the new territories; they simply make their lives impossible during several decades and they wait for them to leave.

A. tells us that last week the settlers put up flags around the confiscated land (which is not even officially confiscated because A. is contesting this in court), in order to mark the expansion of the settlement. Says J. that this is a method also used in the United States (he keeps calling them simply America) to indicate areas in new or planned construction.