CAIRO: After almost a month of trekking through the desert, the Breaking the Ice expedition is heading home. Despite the bumps experienced along the way, the team members say the mission was a success in building peace throughout the troubled Middle East region.
“It was defiantly worth it, says Latif Yahia via telephone. “If it wasn’t, I would not have come back to the group in Sinai. Yahia had left the group in Siwa and went to Cairo for a few days before re-joining the group for the final leg of their tour. He felt the experience had gone beyond ‘roughing it’ and wanted to grab a real shower.
He rejoined the group at the request of Palestinian team member Mohammed Azzam Alarjah, whom Yahia considers to be like his son.
Yahia is a former body double for Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s son, and one of the most feared people in Iraq during the reign of Hussein.
Breaking the Ice (BTI), a non-profit non-governmental organization based in Berlin, Germany, sponsored the journey across the troubled region to promote peace. The trip was supposed to end in Tripoli, Libya, but after being denied entry into the country, they turned around and spent the remaining week in Egypt. This past weekend, the team members planted an olive tree on Mount Sinai as a symbol of unity and peace.
After the disarray at the Libyan border, the team appeared to be falling apart, losing the Afghani, Yehya Wardak. He claimed the group did not do enough to break the ice between the team members and cited the denial by the Libyan government as the last straw.
BTI had expected the journey to continue into Israel this week, but the Israeli authorities denied giving Yehia and Palestinian team member, Alarjah, re-entry visas into Israel. Thus, they decided to officially end their journey in Sinai, noting the importance of the location.
Mount Sinai is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
New York fire department captain, Daniel Sheridan, in a statement released by the organization, says it best: “What better place [to plant the tree] than somewhere all three faiths have claims? It is symbolic of bringing the three religions together.
It was a little surprising that Israel did not allow Yehia and Alarjah re-entry, considering the Libyans had recently denied the three Israelis entrance into Libya a week ago, but Alarjah and Yehia remained positive.
“It was a little frustrating not to get into to Israel again, Alarjah says. “But I understand that they have to deal with the elections and I know the regulations that go into allowing us back into the country.
“We weren’t banned or anything, explains Yahia. “We are still a team and had a message to pass, so it doesn t really bother me that Israel didn t let us back into the country.
BTI had been working with the Israeli authorities for the past few weeks to get Yehia and Alarjah back into the country, but to no avail.
Although the journey saw many ups and downs on the path to promote peace, it appears that the mission was a success. Alarjah talked about his desire to promote peace in his life following the BTI trek across the desert.
“I have a great deal of motivation now to make peace happen, Alarjah, who witnessed his cousin die in his arms after being shot by Israeli troops, admits. “I never really thought much about peace work in the past, but this journey has really helped me understand its importance.
Like Alarjah, Yehia, talked about the mission as something that he thinks the world needs. “This wasn’t exactly what I expected, Yahia says. “We needed time to get used to each other and work out our issues, but in the end I think we showed the world that despite the differences people have with one another we can survive and live in peace.
After having traveled together for 26 straight days, the group is ready to get on with their lives.
“I am ready to head home and get on the things I want to do, Yahia says.
While the group is ready to head home and be with their families, it appears that each has a new desire to promote the ideas of the mission.
“I want to go home and think about the mission, Alarjah says. “I need to think about how to make peace a reality in my daily life.
After a month together, the group seems to have broken the ice on the stereotypes the Middle East and the west have on unity. Time will tell if the expedition will in fact bring about real change.