Four Palestinians and four Israelis, who departed from Israel on the
3rd of January, will try, in their words, "to break the ice far away from
the Middle East." The delegation, Breaking the Ice 2004, is heading to the
frozen continent of Antarctica for a long trek across the massive ice
fields. The initiative came from Heskel Nathaniel, a 41-year-old Israeli who
for the last 10 years has been living in Germany, and Doron Erel, a
professional mountain climber and veteran adventurer.
The delegation's departure was officially announced in July at the
Reichstag in Berlin. The 35-day trek will begin with a flight to southern
Chile. There the participants will board two yachts with sails bearing large
drawings of the Israeli artist Menasheh Kadishman and the Palestinian artist
Suleiman Mansur of Ramallah and sail for a week through difficult conditions
to the shores of Antarctica. Two days after docking there, they will set off
on a 10 -day trek on the ice fields of the South Pole.
Antarctica was selected as the destination for this trek because, among
other reasons, it does not belong to any country. It was declared an
international continent and is used primarily as a research venue. The
delegation plans to reach a previously unclimbed peak while coping with
extremely difficult ground and weather conditions. The peak they plan to
scale is about 20 kilometers inside the continent, and they will travel
there over two to three days tied to each other with ropes, advancing slowly
and dragging their gear and food on sleds across the ice. On the peak, the
team will hold a ceremony giving the place a name that reflects their desire
There are two women and six men in the group. In addition to Nathaniel
and Erel, the initiators of the project, the participants are: Palestinian
journalist Ziad Darwish, who lives in the eastern part of Jerusalem; Olfat
Haider, a physical education teacher from Haifa; Yarden Fanta, who
immigrated to Israel at 14 from Ethiopia by embarking on a long trek across
the wilderness of Sudan and is now completing a doctorate in education and
psychology; Avihu Shoshani, a Tel Aviv lawyer; Nasser Quass, the manager of
a Palestinian soccer team who was in the past sentenced to three years in an
Israeli jail because of his membership in Fatah; and Suleiman al-Khatib, who
at 14 was imprisoned in Israel and then released 11 years later.
Doron Erel says this is not a regular trek, and there is a lot of
excitement surrounding the preparations. The delegation met in the summer
for a week-long preparatory trek to Chamonix in the French Alps and already
then special relationships began to develop among the group members: because
of the makeup of the team, issues such as mutual assistance and working
together to face challenges took on special meaning.
Erel does not hesitate to admit that this is a "naive" project, but
immediately stresses that the naivete is the participants' way of doing
something that makes clear their shared desire for peace.
"When eight people march for long days tied to each other with a rope
that is meant to save their lives, and when they sleep in small tents in
difficult conditions, there is a fraternity created that goes well beyond
political-diplomatic disagreements," he says. Those going on the trek, he
says, have a strong desire to combine a challenging and interesting
adventure with an intense need to initiate shared projects for the two
peoples. Cynical remarks that it would be better to send the two peoples in
their entirety to Antarctica and not just a small delegation, do not elicit
a smile from him.
Attracting attention from the local and international media is one of
Erel's declared intentions. Until now, the delegation members have prompted
great interest abroad, including Arab media outlets, but they have
encountered a certain degree of apathy from the Israeli press.
The team is being funded by international organizations working to bring
Israelis and Palestinians closer together, the sale of the broadcasting
rights to a feature-length television documentary that will be filmed during
the expedition and sponsorship from individuals and commercial enterprises.
Erel says that the delegation has received endorsements from UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan, the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox; the
President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse, and Nobel Peace Prize
laureates Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat.
When the delegation returns to Israel, says Erel, the organization he set
up with Nathaniel to arrange the trek, Extreme Peace Missions, will continue
to initiate educational and extreme adventure projects for children of the