We get up soon and, after packing quickly, we set off to a city where help is needed to pick up olives. I learn the hard way that packing in a hurry is definitely a very, very bad thing. You forget necessary things.

It is not that they need cheap labour to do the harvesting; it is that those who have pieces of land near Israeli settlements receive serious harassment from the settlers. Some peasants have been beaten up and they have also had their harvest stolen, even the donkeys they use to take the olives home at the end of the labour day are stolen.

During our stay in Nablus we will be staying in the “neighbourhood” of Balata, and, unless there are Israeli army incursions, we will be travelling daily wherever help is most needed with the harvesting. Balata itself is actually a refugee camp inside Palestine, full of people who were forcefully displaced from the places where their families had been living for centuries, to make space for the state of Israel and its now new inhabitants. This happened some years ago now, and Balata is now also inhabited by the first refugees’ children and grandchildren. Before being displaced they mainly lived off the produce of their lands. They were forcibly dispossessed of these and forced to live in tents. Now they are still living in the same refugee camp, only the United Nations have built houses for them and they now live off international charity. The phrase “right to return” is referred to refugees like these. Some Israelis think these refugees’ “right to return” is not even worth talking about; indeed some think that these people should no longer be called refugees because they were displaced so many years – and generations – ago.

We join some more internationals in Balata and we are taken on a “tour” inside the refugee camp. Children stop us saying “hello”, in English, or “what’s your name?” probably not knowing exactly what they are saying, because we answer and repeat the question to them and they suddenly shut up. Old men smile or simply stare and some older kids shout out: “welcome!”. We will see these reactions, specially the kids’, every time we go out to the street.

We are told that there are actually various, maybe ten, refugee camps around Nablus. They house some of the hundreds of displaced refugees from the 40s and 70s, Palestinian people that had been living here since quite a few generations and which were massively displaced from all over Israel to make space for the Jewish returning from the diaspora. They began living here in big marquees and tents and now they live in houses that are too small for the huge families. It is amazing how in these terrible circumstances people have continued to have hope and children. There are a lot of children per family too. The schools and the hospitals are run by some UN agency, but that is as far as the UN intervention will go.

The whole camp, which looks like a poor village, is full of pictures of “martyrs”, men and kids that have been killed by soldiers or died in jails, posted on walls or hanging from ropes fastened to two opposing windows. We’re told that most families in this camp, if not all, have a member either in jail or killed by the Israeli army.

While in the middle of the “tour”, we are invited to one of the houses that stand on our way. The whole family is put to work to bring chairs around a tiny little table that will soon fill with glasses and tea.

There are a few pictures on the walls. The biggest one is a collage of portraits of men against a landscape that I am now beginning to identify with Palestine – arid looking soil yet full of vegetation, even if it is in parts. The second biggest picture is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Men and women, but mainly women, sit on the floor or in smaller chairs than those provided for us foreigners. A small boy with broken front teeth insists in bringing each of us our small glasses of tea. The adults continue their conversation and our guide translates. He says that the men portrayed in the biggest picture are martyrs, men killed by the Israeli army, and one of them was from this family. He says this family has a few martyrs as well as this one.

He continues to explain something else but in the middle of the explanation he receives a phone call: there are some military movements up the northern mountains. There seem to be two injured men and another one missing. They need some internationals to look for these men in the mountain because if Palestinians alone go to the mountains to search, the army will simply shoot them. They know this from experience and the excuse the Israeli army has given in the past is that they thought they were terrorists, because of course only terrorists would go up a mountain after dusk.

The visit, the tour and the story telling thus stop abruptly. We all leave and take taxis to the mountainous place where the movements have been reported. The taxis can not advance too quickly because the roads are pretty busy with people – mostly young men. Some of these look into the taxis, see some foreign faces inside, and those who speak English say “welcome”; others just cheer. It feels like they know what we are here for, and the thankfulness just fills the air, or so it feels.

The taxis can only take us to the end of the road. The road ends where the Israeli army has put enough rocks on the road to cut it to wheel traffic. The army usually blocks roads in this way in order to “make movement more difficult for terrorists”. In reality movement is made more difficult for every one else, from the people going to their jobs (those still lucky enough to keep one) to the emergency services, like ambulances.

We get off the taxis and we learn that the two injured men have been taken to hospital, but there is still one missing man and he could be injured too. Our task is to find him.

We walk up the road past the road block and find only quietness, no movement, no vehicles. No one seems to be around. We continue up the mountain through a short cut, always up, up, and we keep calling the man’s name, and “Internationals!” or “International medics!”

We decide it is not a good idea to use lights that could attract soldiers’ attention, as we are not sure if there are still around or not. It is already dark but the moon is bright enough to need no torches.

We get back to the main road that is now useless thanks to the roadblock and then up to yet another road block made of stones. We then decide to split into groups; one will continue the way up following the path, and the other will go down the hill, where there is some vegetation and he could be hiding.

I go with the group that goes up and after a few minutes, a man joins us from the dark. He is the missing man’s uncle, who tells us that, actually, the “man” we are looking for is a boy of 14. He joins us in the search and after a turn in the path plus another 100 metres or so, one of the group sees some one laying on some stones at the side of the road and says, “there he is”. A few men, including the boy’s uncle, identify him and start shouting and crying. Some one says, “check his pulse” but some one else replies, “he is well dead”.

The boy’s uncle wants to take him but a younger one stops him and lifts him. As he does, the dead boy’s head is hanging and still heavily bleeding. The young man takes him down the road from where we came and another one phones the other group; the ambulances are already waiting there, at the point where they can not advance any more because of the road block.

The body of the boy is handed to the medics and we are told to stay on this side of the roadblock. A western woman who now lives in Palestine tells us that, if we go with the boy’s uncle – now he is with more members of the family – and they see us slightly distressed, they will forget about their own grief, and put themselves at our service until they see us content, with tea and food, so big is their sense of hospitality, and no matter how distressed they are themselves.

We then stay on the other side of the roadblock until the family gets on one of the ambulances and leaves for some hospital.

Some of us then go back to the mountain because we are told that there could be another man hiding in the area, maybe also injured. After about fifteen minutes we learn that yes, he is injured, and he is already in hospital. We then consider the search as finished and go back home.

When we get home, something unique happens. For the first and last time in this trip, I see a bunch of Palestinian men cooking food for us foreigners.

Before starting to eat, one of the Palestinians speaks to us all: “ok, what has happened is terrible, but this is our every day life. He is now well and in peace, we remain here with our struggle. Unfortunately he is not the first one, he is number… hundred something…” and another one corrects him: “a lot more than that”, and the first one continues, “We wish he was the last one but probably he will not be”.

I’m not too sure how many more nights I will go to sleep having these images as the last thoughts of my waking day. The sequence of events repeats itself inside my brain. The images I’ve got are quite clear, considering it was night time. I can even remember people’s faces. But then, from the moment I saw the body, these images become black and white in my brain.