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Palestinian teen amputees complete historic Kilimanjaro climb
Published Thursday 20/02/2014 (updated) 28/02/2014 18:25
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Mutassam, 16, and Yasmeen, 17, pictured at the summit of Mount

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Two Palestinian teenagers have made history by becoming the first amputees from the Arab world to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

On Jan. 23, Mutussam Abu Karsh, 16, from Gaza and Yasmeen Najjar, 17, from the Nablus village of Burin completed a demanding eight-day journey to the peak of Africa's highest mountain.

The Climb of Hope was organized by the Ramallah-based Palestine Children's Relief Fund to raise awareness of the plight of children injured in conflict zones in the Middle East, and to raise money to provide medical care to Syrian children wounded in the country's ongoing war.

Traveling in a group of 12 led by Suzanne al-Houby, the first Arab woman to climb Mount Everest, Mutassam and Yasmeen braved extreme weather conditions to climb 5,895 meters to reach the Uhuru Peak, which in Swahili means freedom.

"I am proud we were the first to carry the Palestinian flag to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to help other children, and I want to show that we can do anything despite our injuries," Mutassam said after the climb.

"It's the first time that I have felt truly free, no walls, no borders, no checkpoints and soldiers."

Yasmeen Najjar, 17. (PCRF)

In 2006, Mutassam lost his left leg and part of his hand after an Israeli tank shell exploded while he was playing football in the northern Gaza Strip.

Following treatment by the PCRF in the United States and Dubai, he was fitted with an artificial leg below the knee and had reconstructive surgery on his hand.

Yasmeen, 17, had her leg amputated at the age of three after being struck by an Israeli army vehicle while playing outside her home in the Nablus village of Burin.

She had to cross several Israeli military checkpoints to reach the nearest hospital and by the time she arrived her leg could not be saved.

PCRF provided treatment for her in 2005 in the United States, and again in Dubai and Jerusalem.

Mutussam Abu Karsh, 16, from Gaza. (PCRF)

"The most beautiful moment was when we reached the peak. It was a very exciting moment, I enjoyed it a lot, it was unforgettable," she said in a video after completing the trek.

"I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro because I want to inspire other young Arabs to think that no matter what happens, you can do anything you want in your life."

The climb raised over $120,000 through corporate and individual sponsors, which will go toward treating injured Syrian children as healthcare facilities continue to deteriorate under the strain of war, PCRF president Steve Sosebee, who also participated in the climb, told Ma'an.

"They (Mutussam and Yasmeen) represent the true spirit of kids in the region who have had to overcome physical, political or economic circumstances to live a normal life," he told Ma'an.

"When both kids had a taste of freedom in Africa it empowered them to use this experience to overcome their disabilities."

Mutassam and Yasmeen pictured on Day 5 of the hike. (PCRF)

The group unveils the Palestinian flag just short of the summit. (PCRF)

Gaza travel restrictions nearly prevent climb

Despite overcoming enormous physical and psychological barriers to complete the climb of Africa's tallest mountain, politics nearly prevented Mutassam from arriving in Tanzania to begin with.

On the day he was due to leave Gaza for Africa, Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing, meaning his only option was to travel via the Israeli controlled Erez terminal.

To cross Erez, Israeli authorities require a travel visa in advance, meaning PCRF had to negotiate the UAE's visa process, which is generally restrictive for Gazans.

The children's charity also had to apply for permission from Jordan to cross the Alleby Bridge before leaving Gaza.

After passing Israel's security check at the Erez crossing, with the help of President Mahmoud Abbas' office, Mutassam crossed into Jordan on the last available bus and managed to fly to Abu Dhabi.

He then flew to Doha and finally arrived in Dar es-Salaam, although his luggage was lost and only arrived three days later, after the climb had already begun.

On his return journey to Gaza, Israeli authorities prevented Mutassam from crossing the Qalandiya checkpoint despite having obtained authorization in advance.

After two days of being prevented from traveling, and with pressure from Abbas' office, Israeli forces finally allowed Mutassam to cross the military checkpoint and return home.

Sosabee says that both teenagers are more confident following the climb and are taking on the responsibility of becoming leaders and ambassadors for other children who have been injured in conflict zones.

"They are representing the true spirit of Palestinian kids and carrying a message of hope for kids all over the Middle East who are like them, not disabled, but 'abled'".

"The goal for them is to continue to be a role model and source of inspiration for other kids, to show that despite their physical disabilities they can overcome them and achieve their dreams in life."

1 ) Yousef / USA
20/02/2014 15:33
The Palestinian People will never give up... determined indeed

2 ) James / UK
20/02/2014 16:25
Why am I being repeatedly told they are under a strict Israeli blockade and their movements are restricted, who is kidding who?

3 ) Linda / USA
20/02/2014 17:14
Hey, James in UK! You should read the story before you comment. One of them had a hell of a time getting out of Gaza and back in again.

4 ) Wardah Abd Al Hadi / Oman
20/02/2014 17:29
Ma shah Allah, what a heart warming story of resistance & determination in the face of adversity. How wonderful, what a sense of pride these young people must have, knowing they were able to overcome obstacles, make the climb & put the Palestinian flag at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. What an inspiration they are, may Allah swt grant them every happiness in their lives & open up the world for them. I hope more people hear about their story, truly amazing.

5 ) Steve / Palestine
20/02/2014 18:29
Let's see, James: He was denied crossing to Egypt. He had to have the president in Ramallah intervene to get him out of Gaza and that was at the last moment, after waiting four hours at the checkpoint, the jordanian nearly didn't let him pass, and when he came back, he was turned back from going home and back to school for two days at Kalandia checkpoint because he didn't have "coordination." Have you ever been to Palestine? I thought not.

6 ) Maureen / Australia
20/02/2014 21:35
Congratulations to the young Palestinian climbers! They sure have had plenty of training. For decades Palestinian people, young and old, have been 'climbing mountains' of oppression and cultural theft by their Zionist oppressors.

7 ) carlos / usa
21/02/2014 03:23
It makes me want to puke the people who belittle the dispicable conditions Palestinians have to live under. israel is terror murder and lies. I will boycott all israeli products and encourage others to boycott israel. I am boycotting Intel computer chips. I only buy computers with AMD processors.

8 ) gabi / australia
21/02/2014 03:44
James # 2 - you don't believe Palestinians are under a strict Israeli blockade? After being repeatedly told this? You should rather believe Israeli hasbara? Well, why don't you go there and see for yourself. I suggest you wear one of those black and white Arab headdresses, as a scarf, just for fun, and see what restrictions you'll face. You may be lucky not to be brought in by the IDF for "questioning". Or try wearing it near a settlement in the occupied territories . . . .

9 ) Boniface Hartland-Swann / UK
21/02/2014 18:32
@7 This new form of bigotry against Israel has been called the “new anti-Semitism,” with “Israel” replacing “Jew” in traditional anti-Semitic imagery and canards, singling out and discriminating against the Jewish state, and denying the Jewish people alone the right to self-determination. The new anti-Semitism is packaged in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), which claims to champion Palestinian rights though its real goal is to erode support for Israel.

10 ) gabi / australia
22/02/2014 01:51
# 9 - The sanctions are imposed against those bodies which actively support the occupation, either by setting up shop in the occupied territories, (which then say "look how good we are - first we stole their land and now give them jobs" - jobs that Israelis won't do, or jobs where they are paid far less than their Israeli counterparts). Or those bodies which support the settlements. Or those bodies which discriminate against the Palestinians, or those bodies that practise apartheid. Read more.

11 ) Rami / Palestine
23/02/2014 10:49
#9 If you had any brains in your head you would know that Jews are religious worshipers of the monotheistic religion known as Judaism and the term is not defined according to nationality. Furthermore you would know that Arabs of the Gulf States and further north are among the original Semitic tribes and therefore are SEMITES. Europeans whom are imported to the MENA region are NOT Semites. Finally you would also know that there is a clear and distinct difference between "Jews" and "Israelis."

12 ) Sander / The Netherlands
23/02/2014 10:51
Congratulations for Mutassam and Yasmeen. You did great work! That's a Top performance . This improves Palestininan determinatian to never givekeep and keep hope alive!

13 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/02/2014 23:48
To Boniface #9: '@7 This new form of bigotry against Israel has been called the “new anti-Semitism,” with “Israel” replacing “Jew” in traditional anti-Semitic imagery and canards...' Your argument is a rather transparent device to permit any criticism of any crime Israel commits to be dismissed as 'anti-semitism.' One could have used exactly the same technique to dismiss any objection to Naziism as anti-German bigotry.

14 ) Mel / USA
24/02/2014 19:15
#9:Boniface/UK: If being anti-Israel is SO anti-Semitic,why're there SO many global Jews critical of Israel's occupation/blockade of millions of civilian Palestinians who exercise the SAME RIGHT of resistance that Jews did,against Nazism?Do not confuse ANTI-ZIONISM with anti-Semitism,when Zionism persecutes Semitic Arabs & its Israeli policies reflect those that put millions of Jews,Catholics,dissidents,Romanies,academics,men,women,elderly,children in GAS CHAMBERS!Zionism is NOT Judaism's VOICE.

15 ) Mel / USA
24/02/2014 19:27
p.s. Congratulations to these young climbers. Kudos! Well done! Just to get through Rafah/Gaza is a marathon in itself,where you are made to feel like the Jews squashed into cattle-trucks shipped to unknown zones. USG ignores the desperate cry for help from innocent Palestinians.JUST as it ignored the pleas from Jewish leaders to halt or bomb the Eurasian NAZI railroads/cattle-cars with humans,filling the death-camps,as early as 1941. NEVER GIVE UP Palestine.If you never surrender,you never LOSE

16 ) Ken Bradley / Canada
07/03/2014 20:50
Congratulations to Mutassam and Yasmeen for their strong will and determination to achieve this amazing feat. I hope and pray they feel the same freedom they felt on the peak back in Palestine, god willing.
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