Today we go to help out with the olive harvest. The whole family, probably the whole city, will bury yesterday’s body, but if we go to the funeral instead of helping out in the fields, some other family will not be able to harvest their olives.

The people we are helping had permission to pick up their olives yesterday but not today, so we are going in case soldiers or settlers turn up on their land; maybe we can reason with them. What is amazing is that we are talking about their own lands. If they do not have an official permission for each day that they want or need to enter their own land, soldiers or settlers can shoot and kill them, and they would not be found guilty because it would be considered that the land owners were “looking for it”, for entering “certain lands” near an Israeli settlement without permission. Many families spend years without going to their own lands to avoid being shot. They only pick up their olives when they have permission, which is not necessarily when the olives are ready to be harvested; they go and pick them as they are, if they are, and if they are not they will just have to put up with the situation and wait until next year, because permissions are not given automatically.

What the Israeli state is using quite a lot is an ancient law according to which if some one does not visit their lands during a specific number of years, it is understood that they are not interested in their own land and therefore anyone else can take possession of them. In other words: you threaten some one that you will kill them if they go to their own lands just because those lands happen to be near a settlement or some other Israeli presence (which always happens that it is illegal, according to the UN) until you manage that they do not go to their lands because of the risk to get killed, and then you take possession of their lands with the excuse that they are not visiting them. This is what is being done in Palestine.

We get up early in the morning and at eight we get a taxi that takes us through roads and roads (which are only roads by name) until there is no road to speak of, at the bottom of a mountain. From there we continue up on foot. On top of the mountain we can see some houses and a bit down the hill, a kind of barracks. The houses on top are the civilian settlement, the thing under it is the army post (Fig 7). These settlements seem to be built always on the top of mountains, so that they can control with their sight (and weapons and night strong lights) the Palestinian villages and lands at both sides of the mountain.

The olive picking is done by hand. They put some blankets on the ground surrounding the tree, and we all pick up the olives one by one, throwing them to the blanket. If the family have got the necessary resources, like this one seems to have, they can put wooden ladders against the branches to pick up those at the top of the tree (Fig 8). Some also climb the trees without ladders, even the mother of this family climbs up, with her huge skirt and her sandals. It is amazing how they can climb trees as they do, or bend on the ground, in clothes and shoes that don’t look too comfortable for the task.

After two or three hours of picking we see the woman burn some small branches; she has put some stones around the tiny little fire and a tea pot on the stones. After a while she calls us to have a break and we find a proper meal there prepared for us: hot bread, tea, humous, oil, yoghurt, zatah, olives… about ten small dishes we all dip into with the bread we are given. This is how they eat here, it seems. No one has an individual plate, we all dip into these small dishes, one at a time.

We finish eating and go back to work. When there are lots of olives on the blanket, what we do is, we sit down on it and separate the olives from the leaves, and put the olives only in white sacks with capacity for about 50 kilograms. Later these sacks will go on the back of the family donkey, which is patiently waiting a few metres from the last olives that we expect to work on. We “do” another ten olive trees and we have another break, again with some food.

On the top of the mountain where we are working we can not see the settlement, but we can hear voices from time to time. In a certain moment, the father, from the top of the tree where he is, sees a few settlers who are coming towards his field. The most important thing is whatever the Palestinians need or want so we ask him. He has a moment of hesitation. He has no permission. He has spent a whole day working on his field, and the fruit of it is still in the sacks, on the ground. If those men are settlers, they can rob him of the whole day’s work, or the donkey, or the ladders, or all of it, and then get away with all of it.

Moreover, some one can get hurt. The priority of the Palestinian people that we help is always the security of the internationals that are helping them. And then their own.

Finally they tells us that he prefers to leave. We help them gather everything quickly, he puts the sacks on the donkey and we all go down the hill to their village. We then go on our way up to a place where a taxi can pick us up, at the beginning of the road.

Luckily, this man has not lost more than ten minutes of work. It is possible that the settlers have not seen us, or that they were just some security guards going a round, and that they didn’t want to rob anything or even harass them, but it is too risky to try to find out in such a vulnerable situation. We will come back here again tomorrow.

We get on our taxi and we pass through the village. Old men sit in front of their houses, some walk. They all have ‘caffias’, on their heads, of the kind that Arafat used to wear. They all wear it white with strips and squares of different colours; I learn that the colours have their political meaning. The black is worn by the supporters of ‘fatah’, which must be a political party. The red is worn by supporters of PLFP (probably Palestinian liberation front party), and the green by the supporters of Hammas.