1st, 2004, four Israelis and four Palestinians (two women and six men) set off
on a sea and land expedition to the distant reaches of Antarctica. Their goal
is to summit and name a previously unclimbed mountain. Their expedition is
called : 'Breaking the Ice'. This journey combines the spirit of adventure
with a quest for understanding. It will force people separated by deep
political and religious differences to cooperate in pursuit of a shared goal.
Icebreakers Set Out to Sea (Expedition Log 3)
By Michael Greenspan
In the Beagle Channel, Chile (55° S -- 68° W)
midnight, they raised their cups in celebration, trading hugs and kisses and
best wishes for the year ahead. To a casual observer it could have been almost
any New Year’s party, anywhere in the world. But this one, held in a tiny
Chilean Navy outpost at the southern tip of South America, brought together
four Israelis and four Palestinians -- people far more accustomed to
confrontation than expressions of affection. The members of the “Breaking the
Ice” peace expedition to Antarctica traded toasts of “le’chaim” and “sacha”,
wishing one another “life” and “health”, and hoping aloud that 2004 will be
better than 2003, 2002, 2001 and any number of other years before them.
Early the next morning, at an hour when
most people around the world were contemplating a day of relaxation, the team
was busy making final preparations on Pelagic Australis, the ocean-going yacht
that will carry them to the Antarctic Peninsula. The Israeli expedition
leader, Doron Erel, stowed mountaineering gear in the boat’s forward hold,
helped by Palestinian team member Nasser Gouss. The realization that Erel once
served in an elite Israeli army combat unit -- and that Gouss spent three
years in an Israeli prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail at Israeli troops –
lent special poignancy to an otherwise prosaic moment.
As Israeli Arab Olfat Haidar carried
supplies of fresh bread into the boat’s tiny kitchen she encountered her
Israeli cabin mate, Yarden Fanta, who was still receiving compliments on last
night’s dinner. The Ethiopian immigrant had joined forces with Palestinian
journalist Ziad Darwish to create a truly delicious, and unforgettably spicy,
Pelagic Australis’ skipper, Steven Willis,
had good news: the weather forecasts for the unpredictable Drake Passage
showed a window of opportunity. The preparations moved into high gear and the
realization crept in that the dream of Israeli businessman Heskel Nathaniel
was about to become a reality. It was more than a year ago that he first
conceived the idea of combining his love of extreme sport with his desire to
do something to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The result was
what most of his friends told him was an absolutely crazy idea: taking a group
of Israelis and Palestinians to Antarctica to see if they were capable of
working together in order to do things most people never attempt.
“I knew that to make it across the Darwin
Passage, to trek 20 miles across Antarctic glaciers and to reach the peak of a
mountain that no one had ever climbed before would demand real teamwork. And I
knew that if we could succeed it would send an important message to both our
peoples and the whole world. We have to prove that we can do the impossible.
That’s the same challenge we face in making peace.”
The physical challenges will be
formidable. With the exception of Doron Erel and Heskel Nathaniel, none of the
expedition members has any background in sailing or mountaineering.
Psychological challenges will also play a major role. How will Israeli Special
Forces veteran Avihu Shoshani be able to overcome his distaste for the actions
of Suleiman al-Khatib, a Fatah Organization activist? As al-Khatib made a
farewell phone call to the oldest known Palestinian terrorist – with the news
cameras rolling -- Shoshani stood on the side shaking his head. “Just like
that old guy, Suleiman was also in jail for attacking Israelis. Now he says
he’s abandoned violence in favor of diplomacy. So why’s he making a folk hero
out of a guy who murdered Jews?”
That’s just one iceberg tip out of many
that are bound to surface during the weeks ahead as the group makes its way
further southward. As they begin to understand that the routine of
round-the-clock on-deck watches, cold weather and seasickness is more than a
one day “experience” these voyagers from the Middle East are likely to find
their nerves fraying fast. Yet all of them know that their success and safety
depend upon overcoming their differences and working together in a way that,
should they succeed, will truly set a new precedent for their peoples.
On the first day of January, 2004, Pelagic
Australis left its moorings and headed for the Beagle Channel, the first step
on its way to a great adventure. It carried four Palestinians, four Israelis
and a world of hope.
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