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The Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship

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Originally posted:

August 3, 2014
by Bryan

(RPF) - Before I became politically active I was an avid rock and mountain climber and was very involved in various climbing circles, including being the president of the local climbing club. In 2004 I found out about a special mountain climbing expedition to Antarctica that consisted of a team of four Israelis and four Palestinians. The expedition was constructed as a team building challenge of sorts to show that when interacting on a personal level that Israelis and Palestinians could put aside their culture differences and work together to overcome the difficult challenges they were to face on the expedition. Their name was "Breaking the Ice" and their goal was to climb a previously unclimbed peak in Antarctica with the full sailing / climbing expedition lasting over 30 days. Climbers with arctic-type expedition experience can tell you how important team cohesiveness is, and how the harsh situations can drive wedges between even good friends. In preparation for my first such expedition I did a lot of reading, some about others peoples experiences. In one story two best friends were flown into a base-camp drop off point and when they were later picked up they wouldn't even speak to each other. It can be that bad, so this Israeli / Palestinian expedition really could have ended up a disaster.

Fast forward many months later, as chance had it I ended up getting an e-mail from one of the expedition organizers. The expedition team was on tour and wanted to give a local presentations. They asked for help organizing it to which I jumped at the chance. Our climbing club came out in force that night, and the expedition organizers had also invited members of the local Jewish community so it was a full house. At the event we got to meet the climbers and hear their stories. It was very powerful, moving and overwhelming. This team did not just have one big kumbaya moment which was not surprising given the challenges they faced and considering that some of the climbers from both Israel and Palestine had been personally involved in the Middle East conflict.

To climb in Antarctica the team was going to have to cross glaciers, a process that requires solid team work since the climbers must space out from each other and walk in unison tied together by a rope. This is necessary since glaciers, which are basically rivers of ice, have deep crevasses that become hidden with thin, surface "snow bridges" which can be difficult to detect until they collapse under your body weight. Without ropes you will fall to your death. A properly trained team however can work together to safely travel on glaciers but in doing so you put your life in the hands of your rope team partners. This is one of the many life threatening obstacles the team had to overcome, no small feat for people that self-admittedly acknowledged they grew up learning to hate the other side.

Think about this for a moment. Here is a group of people taught to hate each other, some who had personally seen opposite sides of the same multi-generational conflict, placing their lives in the hands of each other. Powerful indeed. Team members admitted that they had to make conscious decisions to let go of the years of disdain they held to focus on the very real life-and-death situation at hand and realize their common humanity.

I learned a great deal that night, I learned that even in the most averse conflict on the planet, no matter what other people say, what ones "leaders" or "authorities" drive towards, what the media or society tells us to be, that good people really want peace and when left to their own they can achieve it.

The expedition of the four Israelis and four Palestinians was successful, they summited a previously unclimbed peak in Antarctica and in doing so, this is what they had to say:

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.
Let there be peace and friendship.

Summit photo


For more information on this expedition see: