After we watched the dog demo, we got back into our cars and drove another 15 min or so until we got to a little place called Ramat Mamrei, also another gated community over the green line. We drove through the town until we got to the edge of it where we hit a barbed wire fence and a dirt road. We drove down this narrow little dirt road (lots of rocks!) for about 5 minutes until the group stopped. We were on an outpost called Hill 18, and it was stunning. We were deep in the Judean Hills and everywhere we looked were more hills and nore mountains as far as the eye could see. Hill 18 is also known as Mitzpeh Avichai. I was going to Google Map it and show you a pic of where we were but two things are stopping me 1) Apparently those areas of Israel are not quite important enough to have detailed Satellite images 2) my mother would post probably kill me if she knew I drove out there with the kids. Shhhh!
Mitzpeh Avichai is an "illegal" settlement and has been demolished more than once. Several of the dog handlers that we met are living here in one of the "houses" they have erected here. Not including these boys and men, there are 5 other families that live here. The tour guide took us to one family's house. It is almost impossible to drive all the way up to their home, so we left the cars and walked the rest of the way. I can't explain to you what it was like to meet and talk to a woman who lives with her family out here. There are Arab houses almost 10 meters from their house. On the rocky walk up to the their little house are beautiful plants and flowers that have been very carefully planted; almost shocking among all the the rocks and dirt.
As we walked up to the house, my kids were astounded: "How do people live like this? What happens when it rains?" The house itself (and now I am kicking myself for not taking more pics) is quite literally made out of press board. Press board walls, ceiling, etc. The roof was tin sheets pounded together. The floors are dirt and covered in rugs. The furniture is sparse and mostly very warn. The house itself was originally one room (still some kids sleep in the living room, which is also the dining room, office and kitchen), but they managed to add on one bedroom in the back. The do not live like this because they are poor. They live like this because their home is often bulldozed to the ground, leaving them to start all over again.
The woman living here with her three children looks very much like you and me. She's in her early 30s was nicely dressed, had on beautiful jewelry and was very put together. She works in a museum nearby and her husband learns. She and her husband were the first ones to live on Hill 18, but since then another four families have joined her. She went on to tell us how she's lived there almost 3 years and how in that time her home has been demolished several times, and each time they pick up the pieces and they rebuild. She smiles a beautiful smile as she says that it's easy for the government to come and evict one family and kick them out of their home that is then bulldozed to the ground. "But now we are 5. Five strong families. It's a lot harder to displace 5 families."
When asked what we can do to help, so show that we care, she simply says, "Come. Come visit. Come see what we're doing. Come and spend time with us.
I was blown away. I have been hearing about people like this for years, but I had a totally different picture in my mind. I hadn't imagined them to be so like you and me. To actually be there with her in her home was so inspirational.
When I got home I did some research and here's what I found:
An excellent informative article on Mitzpeh Avichai's history here.
And a video showing the tenacity of this incredible crew:
It was amazing for me to meet these people and be there to see what exactly they are doing for the rest of us. But even more amazed were my kids. We had some very interesting talks on the way home. "Why don't we live here? Why can't we come and help them?" It was hard to admit to my kids that you have to be very, very brave to live here, and that maybe their parents are not so brave. "But you have all of us! That lady only has 3 little girls!!"
It gave us all pause for a moment, and I let them digest all that we had seen on the way home. I am awed at how a trip to see some dogs turned into a tremendous inspiration as well as led us to have an appreciation for other factions of Am Yisrael and recognize how much they are doing on a daily basis.
Just another day in the life... :)