Nabil (left) and his brother Ziad on the Liberty II in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay. (Photo: Sandy Shipp)

By Spencer Suckow

When Nabil Amra sets sail around the world on Sunday, he’ll be doing it for two reasons.

The first is to win. Amra, from Minneapolis, is one of 18 sailors competing in the 30,000-mile Golden Globe Race, which will depart France on Sunday. The race commemorates the 50th anniversary of the original Golden Globe, in which nine sailors competed to circumnavigate the globe but only one, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, finished. The course runs south past Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian and Pacific oceans, passing south of Australia, New Zealand and South America, then north to the finish line, off the coast of France.

In the spirit of the original race, no modern technology will be allowed throughout the entire race, though there will be a GPS chart plotter, desalinization pump and a satellite phone under glass on each ship in case of emergency.

This means that Amra will solely have to rely on the skills he’s developed since taking up sailing 13 years ago to finish the race.

However, while Amra relies on his abilities and knowledge, there’s an entire group of people who will simultaneously be relying on him for something much larger. This brings us to the second, and more important reason Amra is competing — to bring awareness to the plight of Palestinians in the Middle East.

“(The race) is for the situation in Palestine,” said Nabil’s cousin and Rochester resident Nadir Amra. “But it’s specifically for the people, because of the conditions they’re living in.”

The conditions, according to Nadir, are basically like open-air prisons, and he says that the struggles regularly faced by Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel are ones of human rights. In his and Nabil’s experience, Palestinians in the areas are both continuously discriminated against and treated as sub-third world citizens.

Specficially, Nadir says that many Palestinians are often exposed to oppression and mistreatment regularly. Among their plights are severe restrictions on travel and an inability to move from place to place, no citizenship rights, unlawful detainment, frequent extreme violence, death and more.

‘You can’t support oppression’

This mistreatment, according to Nadir, goes mostly unnoticed by U.S. citizens, whom he says are mostly focused inward and unaware of the problems occurring internationally. Because citizens tend not to care or even know about the problems that Palestinians face, the issue is therefore largely ignored by both state- and national-level politicians.

That’s why Nadir is hoping that Nabil’s competition and journey can bring at least some awareness to the general public of the issues Palestinians face almost daily.

“I understand supporting (Israel), but you can’t support oppression,” Nadir said. “There’s fault on both sides, but we’re not talking about two equal opponents. (The United States) is giving $4 billion a year to, basically, continue oppression and colonization of what was known as Palestine.”

The race serves as Nabil’s platform to get his wider message of peace and awareness out to the public. Shirts that read “Team Palestine” have been made and distributed, and Nabil has named his boat “Liberty II” after both his late grandmother and the U.S.S. Liberty, a U.S. ship that was attacked by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats off the Sinai coast during the Six Day War in 1967.

The hope, according to Nadir, is that those following and reading about the race will be feel compelled to become more informed about the issues in the Middle East. This would, in turn, ideally lead to enough people contacting their legislators to provoke action in some form at the state and national level.

To be clear, Nadir isn’t hoping for any violent action to be taken against those who are oppressing the Palestinian people. He stresses to make Nabil’s message clear that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians merely want to be treated as equals and have the freedom to live and pursue happiness peacefully, a sentiment backed up by close friend Iman Odeh.

“Peace for everyone, this is what we really want,” Odeh said. “Just a happy life. Hopefully one day everybody will be living peaceful and equal.”

Although Odeh lives in Rochester, she still has a Palestinian ID and says that she’s not allowed to even go to the area because of it. She hopes that will change one day, however, and adds that this current generation of young adult and students tend to be more globally conscious and geared toward activism.

Additionally, while she knows that Nabil’s journey won’t single-handedly change relations, she’s hoping that it at least starts a dialogue and gets some people to start noticing the suffering and issues that exist beyond the U.S.

‘There’s nothing impossible’

For the two and their fellow Palestinians, that will ideally lead to the aforementioned contacting of legislators, which would lead to a ripple effect that begins the road to more peaceful relations. Lasting peace is undoubtedly still a long way off, Odeh says that any method of bringing attention, no matter how small, helps their cause.

This is why she, Nadir and Palestinians both in Rochester and beyond see Nabil as a sort of hero for entering the Golden Globe Race. Though there is obviously some trepidation about entering a race that formerly led to the death of multiple sailors, Nabil’s family, friends and the Palestinian community as a whole are fully behind him.

And while they’ll obviously be rooting for him to win and will be following all available updates on the race, the fact that Nabil is even taking on the challenge of spreading this message means much more to them than the actual result.

“It means a lot because as a Palestinian, you feel like there’s someone that cares and does some big challenges to prove that there’s nothing impossible, Odeh said. “There’s a hope.”