Nablus occupies the West Bank – It was Saturday morning and 40-year-old Bilal Mohammed Saleh was harvesting olives on a small plot of land inherited from his father in the village of al-Zawiya, 18 km (11 miles) south of Nablus.
As usual during the Palestinian olive season, most of the family was there to help. His wife and four children and his siblings and some family members were there when he was shot in the chest by an Israeli settler.
“Bilal was a poor hard worker of the earth,” says his uncle Yasir Shaheen. “He struggled his whole life since he was orphaned at an early age.”
When he was with Bilal and other relatives on Saturday morning, the Israeli army told the family they had three minutes to leave their land.
“The soldiers knew the settlers were going to attack us and didn’t stop them,” he says.
Translation: His name is Bilal. His face is familiar to many passers-by in the city of Ramallah, where he sells sage, thyme, thyme, figs and prickly pears. The 40-year-old hails from al-Sawiyya village, south of Nablus. This good and simple man went out this morning to pick olives, and a settler killed him with a bullet in the chest.
Al-Sawiyya and its 3,500 residents are surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements that have crippled daily life. The villagers own 12,000 tons (1,200 hectares or 2,965 acres) of land, but they can build or work only 600 dunams. The rest are under Israeli control.
“Everything from picking olives on our lands to construction and other aspects of life must be reviewed and approved by the Israeli occupation,” explains village council leader Nihad Arar.
Migrants in illegal settlements attack and harass villagers “all year round”, he says. “[They] They have been known to cut down our trees, burn our farms, steal our olives, and attack Palestinians inside their homes and on their own property.
Everyone’s favorite herbalist
Bilal was a familiar face in the city of Ramallah, where he went every day to collect herbs and wild plants from the mountains near his village.
He dropped out of high school and became a tailor like his brother, until he began going into the mountains to sell wild herbs.
During the season he sells sage, suku, thyme and figs and prickly pears. And, of course, he will harvest the olives in season.
Hazem Shaheen, Bilal’s brother-in-law, said immigrants from Rahalim had previously attacked the family while they were harvesting olives.
“They will steal our ladders and our olives, all under the protection of the Israeli army,” he says.
“They encourage immigrants to attack us. We cannot work on our land and must go in secret. They attack us every year.
The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Some Israeli news reports on Monday said Bilal’s assailant was an off-duty soldier and had been picked up by Israeli military police.
On Saturday morning, Hazem says he saw four settlers dressed in religious garb when Bilal went to pick olives with his family.
Yasir said, “I asked Bilal and his family to move away and come closer to us so that we can be together”.
“The settlers started approaching us, shouting and cursing, and from 100 meters away, one of them fired a bullet,” he says.
The bullet hit Bilal in the chest. He fell down from the ladder he was on.
Hassam explains that they “dropped everything and put him on a ladder and ran through the trees to the main street.”
“We put him in a private car and took him to Salfit Hospital, 15 km (9 miles) away,” says Yasir. But Bilal was declared dead on the way.
Hazem says Bilal’s wife and children, the youngest of whom is nine, “were horrified and couldn’t stop crying.”
His wife Iglas is still in shock. “He wanted to protect me and the children. We were scared when the settlers got close to us and he went to face them. None of us expected him to be shot like that.