Fifteen days after departing from Puerto Williams, Chile on the ocean-going yacht Pelagic Australis and after a one-day delay due to bad weather, the members of the Israeli-Palestinian Antarctic peace expedition known as “Breaking the Ice” achieved their objective, scaling the summit of an unclimbed mountain near Prospect Point on the Antarctic Peninsula and dedicating their efforts to peace.
High winds and driving snow welcomed the expedition team members on Thursday morning as they awakened at their high camp on the morning of the intended summit assault. The Israeli expedition leader, Doron Erel, and lead mountain guide Denis Ducroz from Chamonix, France, debated the wisdom of setting out on the projected route, which would take the inexperienced Israeli and Palestinian mountaineers within feet of yawning crevasses. After almost an hour, the green light was finally given. The expedition would go for the summit.
With crampons attached to their boots and ice axes in hand, the team members ascended slowly along the icy slopes of a glacier that leads up to the sheer rock faces of the mountain itself. In a gesture that was only coincidentally symbolic, they were roped together in mixed groups of four: these Israelis and Palestinians would literally be taking responsibility for one another’s lives.
Navigating in and above the clouds in near-zero visibility made finding the summit difficult and led to several impromptu changes in the route. But, finally, at 4pm, after four and half hours of climbing, on the fourth day of their ascent and more than 13,000 kilometers from their homes in the Middle East, they stood on a spot approximately 1000 meters above sea level, treading on pristine snow where no one has ever stood before.
At the summit, Heskel Nathaniel, the expatriate Israeli businessman who conceived the idea for “Breaking the Ice”, read a proclamation drafted by the entire expedition team. It expressed their belief that Israelis and Palestinians must resolve their deep differences without resorting to violence and went on to cite the personal experience of coexistence and cooperation they had gained during their journey together. Heskel then announced team’s decision -- reached after days of heated debate -- to call the peak, “The Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship”.
The name may lack the dazzle of these media savvy times, but it does seem to reflect the experience shared by the members of the expedition -- total strangers who have learned to live and work -- and even laugh -- together and who have decided to supplant the failed search for political agreement among Israelis and Palestinians with a more personal approach to peace making.
The ceremonies at the summit were informal and varied. The three Palestinian men in the expedition team knelt in Muslim prayer. The Israelis opened a bottle of champagne for everyone. Palestinian team member Ziad Darwish was moved to tears. “This moment is so beautiful,” he said, “seeing Israelis and Palestinians doing this kind of thing together. Yet, it also makes me think of all the horrible things we’re doing to one another back home.”
The Israeli expedition leader Doron Erel, who has been to the summit of Mt. Everest: “The point is that Israelis and Palestinians have done something unique together, something that required the kind of cooperation and involvement that you rarely if ever find among us. I can’t tell you how pleased I am about how well we’ve all gotten along together and how well everyone performed. No one thinks that we’re going to bring peace by climbing mountains, but everyone should know what we as Israelis and Palestinians are capable of doing when we set our minds to it. That’s what I hope that both our peoples will be thinking when they hear about what we’ve done.”
That, says Erel, is the impression the members of Breaking the Ice want to leave on their fellow Israelis and Palestinians: like climbing mountains, making peace requires a deep personal commitment. These Israelis and Palestinians were willing to go all the way to Antarctica to drive that message home.
Again, the Summit Statement:
“We, the members of Breaking the Ice, the Israeli-Palestinian expedition to Antarctica, having reached the conclusion of a long journey by land and sea from our homes in the Middle East to the southernmost reaches of the earth, now stand atop this unnamed mountain. By reaching its summit we have proven that Palestinians and Israelis can cooperate with one another with mutual respect and trust. Despite the deep differences that exist between us, we have shown that we can carry on a sincere and meaningful dialogue. We join together in rejecting the use of violence in the solution of our problems and hereby declare that our peoples can and deserve to live together in peace and friendship. In expression of these beliefs and desires we hereby name this mountain “The Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship.”
This article is an extract of the Daily Log of Breaking the Ice expedition. Please consult the rest of the Daily Log at: http://www.breaking-the-ice.de/WebLog/b2/
Source: Breaking the Ice 2004 website, January 16, 2004
Visit the Breaking the Ice 2004 website at http://www.breaking-the-ice.de
Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
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