An Iraqi veteran and a Palestinian-Israeli partnered together recently to tackle one of America’s highest mountains, Denali (Mt. McKinley), showcasing their partnership as an example of how individuals with diverse backgrounds can come together. The two displayed a banner urging peace
Mount McKinley (also known as Denali), North America’s highest peak, can pose a challenge for even the most experienced mountaineer. But for NYU School of Professional Studies (NYUSPS) Clinical Assistant Professor of Global Affairs Naira Musallam and U.S. Army veteran Tim Lawton, the mountain represented a unique opportunity—to make history as one of the first Arab/American teams to reach the summit, as well as to send a message that people from differing backgrounds can work together to overcome insurmountable obstacles.
Musallam and Lawton’s journey to reach Denali’s summit, which stands at more than 20,000 feet, began on May 4, when they attempted to climb the mountain with a guided group but were unable to do so due to severe weather conditions. This attempt took 18 days on the mountain. Most climbers would have waited until the following season to attempt the feat again, however, this determined duo decided to return only a few weeks later in June. The second and successful attempt was a self-guided climb, lasting 17 days on the mountain. The pair reached the top of Denali on June 30.
“I am overjoyed, as I believe that I am the first Arab woman to reach the peak and to have this chance at making mountaineering history,” declared Musallam, who teaches at the NYUSPS Center for Global Affairs.
“It was a very emotional journey for us,” added Lawton. “Climbing a mountain like this takes so much planning, logistics, and training. The weather is unpredictable, and you have to give it your all, mentally and physically. In the end, all you have left to give is emotion.”
From the top of Denali, the pair raised a flag with the message, “Peace and Security for All,” written in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
“The two months; two cross-continental round trips; red-eye flights; sleeping in airports, tents, and hotels; and 35 total days on the mountain were well worth the effort,” said Musallam.
What makes their story unusual and their feat even more meaningful is their considerably different backgrounds. Musallam grew up as a Palestinian in Israel, where she spent a significant amount of time working in conflict resolution. Lawton grew up in Massachusetts and served in the United States Army as an Army Ranger, with numerous combat tours in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They connected because of their love for mountaineering and their drive to send a message about hope, interdependence, and common human values to the world.
“For a seemingly unlikely pair to overcome this physical feat is symbolic of the human connection and cooperation needed in today’s volatile global reality,” said Musallam.
They are in the process of starting a nonprofit social platform that connects those from varied backgrounds and shared passions, aligning people, ideas, and resources to address social issues.
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