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.
Stormy Night (Expedition Log
storm hit us like the overture to an opera -- a wild,
dramatic clash of weather systems that seemed to be
setting the stage for an epic saga.
After two days of smooth sailing (relative to these
climes) some of us aboard Pelagic Australis were
beginning to think that the horror stories they'd heard
about sailing across the Drake Passage from Chile to
Antarctica had been blown out of proportion. Yes, some
were seasick and others drowsy from pills to prevent
seasickness but, all in all, the Drake, named after 16th
century English explorer (and, say some, pirate) Sir
Francis Drake, had been anything but horrific.
During watch shifts on deck, the Breaking the Ice
expedition members Yarden and Nasser had time to ponder
the vast southern ocean, its emptiness punctuated only
by the occasional appearance of a solitary Great
Wandering Albatross or a duet of Cape Petrels. The
former is a massive black, grey and white avian with a
wingspan of up to four meters, who glides gracefully
above the water. The latter are smaller birds that
skitter along the very tops of the waves, showing off
bold black and white patterned plumage on the tops of
their wings. Both come out here in search of food,
covering incredible distances to find it. With no land
in sight and no place to rest, it's difficult to imagine
The team on the boat leaving Puerto
Wiilliams for Antiarctica
afternoon, the serenity began slipping away. Pelagic Australis crossed the
Antarctic Convergence, an imaginary irregular circle surrounding Antarctica
where sea and air temperatures drop dramatically, affected by the ice mass of
the still distant frozen continent. First, the clear skies and endless vistas
we'd enjoyed since leaving Chile gave way to a dismal, claustrophobic fog.
Then, the brisk breezes that had pushed us along began building, growing into
gale force winds of up to 65 km/h. For those of us who had finally found our
'sea legs' and had adjusted to the boat's normal rocking and rolling, the
world was about to turn on its side.
Even with its sails trimmed, Pelagic Australis was severely buffeted by the
storm, tilted to a 45-degree angle that left the expedition team wondering
where to find the floor. Up on deck, waves crashed over the bow, showering the
watch with icy spray. Down below, there was no distinction between experienced
sailors and rank beginners (like us): everyone was pitched to and fro as they
tried to move about the interior of the boat. Climbing in and out of berths
became an acrobatic challenge. Pouring a glass of water required guessing the
correct angle -- and always getting it wrong. Using the head (toilet) became
an indescribable experience that everyone, of course, felt absolutely
compelled to describe. Their laughter showed that on this subject, at least,
these Israelis and Palestinians seem to be in total agreement.
But the humor gave way to seriousness when Olfat Haider finished her trip to
the head with a flying leap, back first, into a handrail. The expedition's
physician, Arik Shechter, treated her for a severe bruise to the pelvis but
told her she could expect a full recovery.
By Sunday morning the worst was over. The winds began to drop and the seas
were somewhat calmer. Those of us who poked our heads above deck discovered
that the overture was at an end and the real saga had just begun. We had
reached the land of the icebergs.
Most of us have encountered icebergs in the pages of nature magazines, school
textbooks or television programs. Every Israeli and Palestinian schoolchild
knows (or is supposed to) that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg,
that at least three-quarters of its mass is hidden beneath the surface of the
water. This theoretical knowledge spawns many comparisons, including those
that liken the enormity and depth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an
iceberg: their genuine complexity and intractability have exceeded the ken of
all erstwhile peacemakers to date.
This morning, as they sailed on toward their final destination in the
Antarctic Peninsula, the Israelis and Palestinians of the Breaking the Ice
expedition saw icebergs with their own eyes -- up close, from the deck of a
small sailing yacht. They were dwarfed by massive, moving white mountains of
ice: icebergs tinted blue by the pure waters of their glacial birthplaces;
icebergs as big as cities; icebergs whose real size we could only guess at;
icebergs lapped by chilly Antarctic seas that will, inexorably, push them into
warmer waters that will melt them into oblivion.
For a moment, at least, there were no Palestinians or Israelis aboard Pelagic
Australis. There were only human beings, humbled and brought together by
something far greater than themselves and stimulated, perhaps, to wonder when
the ice that separates their two peoples will finally thaw.
And then it comes into view. A rocky island, surrounded by scattered
icebergs-- seemingly no place to visit. Yet, as we sail along its shore a
surprise awaits: an opening comes into view between two rocky protuberances.
Beyond it lays a vast expanse of water surrounded by snow capped mountains.
But this is no lake. It's a volcanic crater where once British whalers made
their camp. This is Deception Island -- the first destination on our Antarctic
adventure. Tomorrow we begin to explore.
Among the South Shetland Islands (63° S -- 62° W)