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Breaking the Ice - 6th Press communiqué

6th Press communiqué
19th January 2004

A Special Tribute to the Expedition Support Team [General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 20:17:17
We have crossed the seas and been to the top of the mountain. Now we, the members of the Breaking the Ice Antarctic expedition team, wish to express our deepest gratitude to the people whose help and encouragement made it possible for us to achieve our goals and whose patience and emotional support were invaluable during our long journey from home. In alphabetical order, we salute:
• 1. Kim Bodin, from Chamonix, France, the Mountain Guide whose Alpine skills are only rivalled by his culinary talents and whose warmth and humor seemed to make his hair even redder than it is.
• 2. Mario Dieringer, our News Editor and video director from Germany, who stayed awake long after the rest of us had escaped into the comfort of our sleeping bags and whose nocturnal efforts ensured that the world could share each day's expedition images.
• 3. Denis Ducroz, our Lead Mountain Guide from Chamonix France. It's not possible to adequately express our gratitude to this wise, caring and daring man who led us safely and surely to the summit of the Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship, guided us through the most difficult moments of the climb and captured everything with his video camera.
• 4. Dr. Catrin Ellis Jones from Wales in the UK, the First Mate of the yacht "Pelagic", whose smile and sense of humor made even our most difficult moments more pleasant and whose sketches and painting captured the wild beauty of our surroundings.
• 5. Michael Greenspan, our Correspondent and video editor from Israel, who documented the expedition in words and in pictures and interrogated us repeatedly until we were finally ready to tell him everything.
• 6. Richard Howarth from the UK, the skipper of the yacht "Pelagic", who kept our smaller sister ship on course with us and gave us the feeling that "Pelagic Australis" was never alone. He is the very model of an Englishman at sea and we salute him.
• 7. Nadav Khalifa from Israel, the all-around Mountain Guide, Alpine Rescue Specialist and Camp Master, who was everywhere, all the time, helping everyone, so much so that it sometimes seemed there was more than one of him.
• 8. Skip Novak from the USA, the Commodore of the "Pelagic" fleet, the finest ocean going yachts in any latitude, and an inspiring mountain guide. This firm, fair and funny man was constantly at the helm and always ready to help.
• 9. Nicolas (Nico) Pichelin from France, the "movie star" of the "Pelagic" and "Pelagic Australis" crews, who was even ready to jump into the freezing waters of Antarctica to ensure that we would win our battle over the ice and who makes the best apple crumble cake on any continent.
• 10. Anthony Robinson from the UK, our Communication Specialist and good will ambassador, who always seemed to have a smile on his face and the can of beer in his hand. Wherever and whenever, he kept us in touch with the world. Thank you Tony !
• 11. Colin Rosin, our Director of Photography from Israel, who seemed to be glued to his cameras (three of them, in fact) and who observed every move we made and every word we said. He will always be the gentleman behind the viewfinder and our friend in front of it.
• 12. Dr. Arik Shechter, our physician from Israel, who carried an entire hospital on his back. Wherever we went, no matter what hurt, Arik was always there, ready to soothe our pain and get us back on our feet.
• 13. And finally, but far from last, Stephen Wilkins from Australia, skipper of "Pelagic Australis", who knows his boat better than anyone else in the world, never feels the cold and warms his surroundings with sunshine. The prince of charm.
Thank you
God bless you !


The Summit [General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 04:34:15
The Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship, Antarctica (66° S -- 65° W)
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 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.

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".


Irregular postings... [General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 23:55:44
As we receive a lot of mails these days asking about updates and informations from the expedition and why this has been a bit scarce lately, please let me give you the picture: Whenever the group left the boat, communications have been very difficult, reduced to SMS via the satellite phone and a few brief phone calls. Today, communication broke off with the weather suddenly changing from sunny blue skies to heavy snow.
However, there is no need to worry at this stage: they are well equipped and have everything to be out there for a number of days. Please check with us tomorrow to see what happened.


[General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 19:25:38
Prospect Point, Antarctica (66° S, 65° W)
When they awakened this morning, the members of the Israeli-Palestinian peace expedition to Antarctica were ready to take the first steps in the multi-day trek that will lead them to an unclimbed mountain, but nature had plotted overnight to delay their departure, locking their yacht, Pelagic Australis, among icebergs and sea ice.
It took several hours of organization and some deft rigging by the boat's captain Skip Novak before it was possible to begin transporting people and equipment to shore. Even after the process began several hours would pass until everything was ready for departure.
Finally, they were prepared to set off onto the glacier, wearing snowshoes, carrying backpacks and pulling heavy equipment behind them on plastic sleds. Expedition leader Doron Erel gave the order to rope the eight trekkers together into two groups of four. They will remain that way whenever in motion during the days ahead -- a safety measure against numerous deep crevasses hidden by a thick covering of snow. If any member of the team falls into one it will be up to all the others to stop the fall and pull him or her back out again. Without ropes -- and teamwork -- the dangers multiply.
The night before their departure, the expedition members argued vocally about the name they would give to the unclimbed peak that is their final destination -- a name meant to symbolize their desire for peace. As usual, Avihu Shoshani, the Israeli attorney and Nasser Quass, the Palestinian political activist, were in the thick of the debate, disagreeing over every nuance of every name suggested by the others. It fell to Breaking the Ice initiator, Israeli businessman Hezkel Nathaniel and Ziad Darwish, the Palestinian journalist, to restore calm. Though the tempers finally cooled, the meeting ended without a decision.
The extraordinary thing about this extraordinary peace mission is that, on the very next day, Shoshani and Quass were roped together in the same trekking group, helping one another to shoulder their load up the glacier. Time and again, the team members have demonstrated their ability to work together on a personal level despite their political differences.
Their luck, on this day, was that the outstanding Antarctic summer weather of the last few days has continued to hold. As a result most of the trekkers today wore no more than thermal underwear, saving their warmer fleece and down garments for the colder temperatures of the evening. Everyone was warned to apply thick layers of sunscreen and to use dark sunglasses -- protection against sunlight reflected off the snow.
At this time of year it never gets dark in Antarctica. The sun hovers just beyond the horizon and the skies remain illuminated throught the night. So, as the team members established their first base camp, setting up tents and unrolling sleeping bags, they were able to enjoy a breathtaking view -- on one side the sea, littered with patches of ice and framed by snow covered mountains in the distance; on the other side, much closer that it had been the day before, an unclimbed mountain -- their mountain. Its dark brown slopes are edged in pure white snow, extending up to its summit -- their summit. If the weather remains good, they'll reach it within another two or three days.
As the team settled into camp, the gas stoves began hissing, turning out tea, then soup, then pasta -- a fine evening's repast in the middle of a frozen meadow. Cameraman Colin Rosin taught everyone some of the basic moves of Tai Chi. Everyone had another couple of tea. And then the expedition's two female members, Israeli Arab Olfat Haider and Yarden Fanta, the immigrant Jew from Ethiopia, crawled into their tent for a good night's sleep on the ice -- followed by all the others -- ready for another day of climbing tomorrow as Breaking the Ice moves, step by step, towards its objective.


Trekkers on Ice [General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 21:12:06
Prospect Point, Antarctica (66° S -- 65° W)
Pelagic Australis makes its way ever so gingerly among the floating sheets of sea ice off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, taking care to avoid the growlers (iceberg fragments) scattered among them. The boat's aluminum hull can handle the former with relative ease, but the latter could do it serious damage. Just a week ago the sea ice was still frozen into a single solid mass and Prospect Point was unreachable. Today, we're headed toward the shore.
There's an air of excitement on board this morning. The Breaking the Ice expedition is within sight of the mountain its eight Israeli and Palestinian team members hope to climb in the days ahead - the mountain from which they hope to tell the world that their two peoples can set aside their historic conflict and work together in pursuit of a better future.
From this perspective, the mountain doesn't look very high, very far or very difficult, but distances here can be very deceiving.
The weather is glorious - sunny and warm, windless and cloudless. People are dressed lightly, without gloves or hats. With the sun reflecting so strongly off the still water, everyone's wearing sunglasses. And all are hoping that things will remain exactly as they are for the next few days, ensuring a smooth trek across the ice. If the winds blow too hard or snow begins to fall, the team might be forced to spend its time seeking shelter in tents rather than moving toward its objective.
The expedition has to be prepared for every possibility, so this day is spent getting organized. On the foredeck, team members are gathering ski poles and snowshoes and crampons, food and canisters of cooking gas, climbing ropes and tents. Expedition leader Doron Erel and mountain guide Nadav Khalifa oversee everything, counting every item to make sure nothing has been forgotten.
On the aft deck, communications specialist Tony Robinson is helping media producer Mario Dirienger assemble and test the portable (but heavy) satellite ground station, generator, fuel and computers that will enable the trekkers to beam news of their progress to people around the world.
Below deck, other team members are stuffing their backpacks with sleeping bags, thermal air mattresses, toilet paper, toothbrushes and utensils, along with various layers of fleece and down cold weather apparel - along with cameras, cameras and more cameras. Expedition physician Arik Shechter is assembling his medical kit, carrying everything from aspirin to surgical implements, ready for any eventuality that may befall the team as it moves across the frozen glacier and its hidden crevasses.And cameraman Colin Rosin is everywhere, capturing everything on video, observed by the occasional passing penguin or two.
While lead climbing guide Denis Ducroz and Pelagic Australis' captain Skip Novak set off to scout the route to the mountain, team members Avihu Shoshani and Suleiman al-Khatib begin the slow process of loading all the equipment on rubber dinghies and ferrying it to shore. The expedition's red plastic sleds are already there, waiting to carry whatever's too big or too heavy to go on people's backs.
The preparations will last most of the day. Everything will be checked and double-checked. Once the group sets out toward its mountain, there will be no turning back.
The teamwork evident on the boat this morning belies the heated debate that erupted last night in Pelagic Australis' saloon when the expedition members attempted to work out the language of the joint declaration they plan to issue upon reaching the summit of the mountain. They want to make a statement that will resonate strongly with both Israelis and Palestinians, but finding words general enough to be accepted by all yet strong enough to get the expedition's message across proved to be no easy task.
The conversation began calmly enough, with Breaking the Ice initiator Heskel Nathaniel suggesting that the resolution simply state the team's understanding that Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace. "This is what we've seen here, among us," said Nathaniel. "We've been together for ten days now. Look at how we're getting along. This should be our message to the world - that we can do it, and that it can be done." The suggestion met with universal approval. But the atmosphere began heating up when Suleiman al-Khatib suggested that the resolution be more specific, including an objection to the separation fence Israel is building between it and the Palestinians. Doron Erel argued that adopting a political stance was not the expedition's goal -- that its message was and should remain human. When Ziad Darwish suggested that the resolution make a statement opposing all use of violence, Avihu Shoshani argued that Israel's actions toward the Palestinians were not violence but, rather, self-defense.
The longer the conversation continued, the more bitter the debate became. Avihu Shoshani became furious when Nasser Quass argued that Israel and the Jews had no real claim to what they call the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, now the site of the Al Aksa mosque, because there had never been a Jewish temple there. Quass was enraged when Yarden Fanta called Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat a terrorist and murderer. Ziad Darwish left the room, claiming that the conversation had turned into a forum for sensationalism. And Olfat Haider, sitting off to the side, appeared transfixed by the anger in the air. Later, she broke down in tears.
Yet, despite their differences, this morning all the team members were back on deck, helping prepare the equipment they'll need for the days ahead, getting ready to embark on the final leg of a journey that has already carried them more than 13,000 kilometers from their homes in the Middle East.
Late in the afternoon, with all their equipment ashore, they established their first base camp on Antarctic soil, ready to begin days of trekking and camping, testing their physical and mental abilities and, they hope, proving to everyone that they can break the ice - that they, the people, can achieve peace.
Expedition Sparks International Affair [General] - Torsten - torsten@breaking-the-ice.de @ 10:05:44
Vernadsky Research Station, Antarctica (65° S -- 64° W)
It all began with Catrin Ellis Jones' Pisco Sours (a mixture of pisco -- an alcoholic beverage debatably of Peruvian or Chilean origin -- fresh lemon juice, crushed ice, whisked egg whites and icing sugar). Fueled by the first mate's concoction, the evening took on a life of its own.
The Breaking the Ice peace expedition to Antarctica had just concluded a brief voyage down the Penola Strait, after a morning visit to the nesting colony of Adelie penguins on Yalour Island (with Palestinian team member Suleiman al-Khatib persuaded to come along despite his distaste for the aroma of penguin guano). After Pelagic Australis and Pelagic had dropped anchor in a small, protected cove alongside the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Station, the two boats tied up together and there was little to do but enjoy the warmth of a splendid Antarctic summer evening.
Sausages, ham and cheeses appeared as an accompaniment to the drinks and when the pisco ran out wine and whisky replaced it, along with orange juice for the abstemious. With Israeli and Palestinian expedition members, mountain guides, ships' crew, media and communication specialists visiting back and forth between the boats, a cocktail party atmosphere began developing in the most bizarre of locations.
That's when Vladimir, Vladimir, Vladimir and Yevgeny showed up - two Ukrainian researchers, their station chief and cook - bearing a welcoming gift of vodka from the Vernadsky stores. Glasses were rapidly filled and raised in a toast to international friendship. This led to another toast -- to Israeli-Palestinian peace -- which led, in turn, to more toasts - to various nations, notions, emotions and individuals. Ship's doctor Arik Shechter, who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine, helped out with translation, but the reasons for each refilling of the glasses were becoming less and less apparent and of increasingly less concern to the participants.
Vernadsky Research Station is famous for its hospitality. During their yearlong posting in the Antarctic these Ukrainian scientists conduct important studies of the environment (in fact, the hole in Earth's ozone layer was discovered here during the base's former incarnation as Great Britain's Faraday Research Station). But, in addition to their ecological research the Ukrainians have also gained notoriety as the proprietors of the southernmost bar on the face of the planet - a popular stop for people traveling through the region. They are spreaders of goodwill in the remoteness of the frozen continent.
In a gesture of hospitality, the crew of Pelagic Australis invited its Ukrainian friends to stay on board for a dinner of roast lamb and mashed potatoes mixed with carrots, along with an uninterrupted flow of wine and vodka. All attempts at serious conversation proved futile and the evening repast was heavily spiced with hysterical howls of laughter. Nasser Quass, a devout Muslim who refrains from alcohol, seemed inebriated by the spirit of the moment. "I don't believe I'm seeing this," he said. "Look at these Israelis and Palestinians and French and Americans and Ukrainians all sitting around together and having fun. Everyone's speaking a different language and it doesn't make any difference if they really understand. They're just enjoying themselves. No one back home will believe me if I tell them this is what I discovered in Antarctica."
Indeed, it was becoming increasingly difficult to think of this as an 'extreme' expedition. And when the music began blasting from the loudspeakers in the ship's saloon, any pretense of hardship on the high seas completely evaporated. With only three women on board, compared with about 25 men, the dancing got off to a slow start. But when Genya (he'd been Yevgeny before the drinking began) did his impression of John Travolta's 'Pulp Fiction' disco dance, the ice was truly and fully broken. Within minutes, the entire crowd was on its feet.
What followed (until some indeterminate hour of the morning) is difficult, and perhaps unwise, to describe. After all, Breaking the Ice is a very serious initiative ? an attempt by Israelis and Palestinians to reach the summit of an unclimbed mountain in Antarctica in order to show their peoples that they can, indeed, work together in pursuit of shared objectives. So, suffice it to report the following: expedition leader Doron Erel really does know how to boogie; Palestinian Olfat Haider and Israeli Yarden Fanta have some great moves on the dance floor; given enough liquid encouragement, even mountain guides can lose their equilibrium; even in Antarctica, it's never too cold to take off your shirt; spending ten days together at sea is more than enough reason to let off some steam; and Catrin Ellis Jones makes a powerful pisco sour.
Yes, there are also days - and nights - like this here in the far southern latitudes. This one was a prelude to more difficult days and nights ahead as the expedition team gears up to leave its boats behind, pitch its tents and begin the long trek across the ice toward its final objective.
26.9.06 11:53

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