Published in the Jerusalem Post
-- Page one news -- Sunday, January 18, 2004
Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian friendship
by LAUREN GELFOND
On a previously unclimbed mountain in the heart of Antarctica, newly planted Palestinian and Israeli flags wave side by side.
On Thursday evening, four Palestinians and four Israelis, harnessed together for safety, reached the peak and mingled their footprints in the virgin snow. After 15 days at sea and on ice, the ascent and ceremony left the eight unlikely teammates in tears. In celebration, three Palestinians kneeled in prayer.
Though the symbolic flags will soon be destroyed by heavy winds, the group including former IDF commandos and Fatah activists inaugurated the peak with a permanent name: "Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship."
"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," read the proclamation they coauthored en route.
"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."
While the trekkers eventually agreed on a name for the mountain and worked successfully together as partners, relations were not always easy. Fiery debates broke out over the security fence, the Temple Mount, peace accords, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, and even the wording of the proclamation. On the last day, they reached a unanimous agreement that the proclamation should reflect human and not political values.
Despite vastly different takes on historical and political events, the group bonded and came to each other's aid during personal conversations, and as they faced sea sickness, violent winds, and near-zero visibility during parts of the journey. They also spent many hours together contemplating the work of nature, as they saw for the first time penguins, seals, whales, and glaciers in the Drake Passage and the stark landscapes of Antarctica.
"This moment is so beautiful, seeing Israelis and Palestinians doing this kind of thing together," said Palestinian journalist Ziad Darwish through tears upon reaching the peak. "Yet it also makes me think of all the horrible things we're doing to one another back home."
Darwish visited Arafat and received his blessing before signing on, he told The Jerusalem Post one day before heading out.
The journey is the first program of Extreme Peace Missions, a new extreme sports organization dedicated to conflict resolution among youth and adults in conflict zones.
"No one thinks that we're going to bring peace by climbing mountains," said Israeli group leader Doron Erel. "But everyone should know what we, as Israelis and Palestinians, are capable of doing when we set our minds to it."
Mike Greenspan contributed to this report.
The "Breaking The Ice" expedition homepage
is at http://www.breaking-the-ice.de/
Expedition photos are at http://www.breaking-the-ice.de/t_gallery.htm .
Their Expedition Diary is at http://www.breaking-the-ice.de/WebLog/b2/ .