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Olive Feast and Car Trouble Amid West Bank Sojourns

In a jampacked 48 hours, a reporter encounters both kindness and unrest.

Wanted: someone willing to take tea in an olive grove by morning, get pummeled by stone-throwers in the afternoon, and break down on roads favored by drive-by gunmen at night.

Even in well-worn territory like the enduring tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, there is often a startling degree of unpredictability. What is also unpredictable is the degree to which, in a land of mistrust and enmity, there are so many individuals who disprove the harsh stereotypes the world has assigned them.

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As we arrive at the entrance to Beit Furik, a Palestinian village just outside the West Bank city of Nablus, scores of boys have taken the day off from school to throw stones at Israeli soldiers and passing cars. Today's protest is for Mohammed Zalmout, who was found dead in his olive grove a day earlier.

A Jewish settler is at fault. We claim neutrality. We're foreign press. We're going to Mr. Zalmout's house to speak to his family. They let us through.

Inside Beit Furik, we stop to talk to a family along the road. Six of them are working the same olive tree, pulling at the blue-black teardrops with dusty hands.

One of them, Hamed Shihade, shares all he can with us. The state of his harvest this year. (Not bad.) Relations with the settlers. ("They took our land and used it for their farms.")

"You must stay for tea," he says when we begin to make our exit. And for bittersweet olives. And bread.

When we leave the village after visiting the house of mourning for Zalmout, we find our guides have lifted the windshield wipers on our car and placed an olive branch there. It somehow seems a seal of approval from the local residents.

Yet we do not go in peace. When we leave Beit Furik, we find that the stone-throwers have lit a row of tires across the road, preventing us from taking it to the settlement up the hill. In the other direction, the road back to Jerusalem is paved with 75 youths starting to throw stones at us. Now, they're no longer listening to the shouts of "foreign press."

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A Palestinian photographer negotiates with the growing mob. He asks for a boy to jump in the car to ensure we'll be allowed through. They fight over who will have the privilege. Two jump in.

It takes only one stone - and then a deluge. With the pack running apace, hands begin to reach into the car and grab at us; others are banging on the hood, the trunk, the roof.

A mile down the road, with rocks still flying in our direction, we thank our passengers and send them on their way. And speed off on ours.

The next day, I want to talk to Beit Furik's neighbors, the Jewish settlers. We choose nighttime because we hope we'll find more people home from work.

An hour after our rent-a-car has been taken off the lot in Jerusalem, it begins making an oil-starved sputter. It finally breaks down on a dark road in Somewhere, West Bank. We realize where we are: in a car with Israeli plates on a road where there have been several drive-by shooting of settlers by Palestinians.

The second passing car stops. The short, olive-skinned man with a mustache and a yarmulke on his head wants to help. Yaakov Yitzhak realizes immediately that we aren't settlers or even Israelis, but he knows we're still a target.

He pulls a towing cable from his trunk, hooks us up, and pulls us five miles uphill to the settlement of Ofra, his home.

I ask him how people feel in Ofra these days. "Depressed," he says. "Until two weeks ago [when Israel agreed to some West Bank withdrawal] we still liked Bibi," he says of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Now, maybe 80 percent are disappointed in him."

"Write good things about us," he says. Perhaps now I did have something good. Somewhere out there, there were still more stone-throwers, an Israeli who killed an old man, a Palestinian who opened fire on a family station wagon on its way home at night.

But there is also Hamed in his olive grove, and there is Yaakov and his cable to tow our car. Perhaps, there is hope.

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