By Delinda C. Hanley
Palestinian-American Nabil Amra, 43, is a successful banker in Minneapolis, MN. But he’s leaving his job for nearly two years to train and race for Palestinians. Born and raised in the United States, Amra had a brief taste of life in Palestine when his father decided to move the family back to the West Bank so they could get to know their relatives.
Amra attended the Friends Boys School in al Bireh, Ramallah from 1987 to 1990—just as the first intifada got underway. Family time turned into a “bury your cousin time,” he told the Washington Report. After Israeli soldiers killed his 14-year-old best friend and cousin, Amra’s parents decided it was time to get back to the States. That brief sojourn in his family’s homeland left a mark that hasn’t faded.
Amra grew up watching the Olympics, he said, but there was never a Palestinian team to root for. After he took up the sport of sailing, he wondered why Palestinians, who have a long tradition of sailing, don’t race. The heart-wrenching answer, he discovered, was that the Israeli air force destroyed the Palestinian Sail and Surf Federation boating fleet which was training for the Olympics, citing national security risks, and pointing out that Gazans aren’t permitted to travel anyway.
Palestinians face an untenable situation, but American-raised Amra realized he should take advantage of his own opportunities. He will be sailing under the Palestinian flag in the upcoming 2018 Golden Globe Race. This race marks the 50th anniversary of a non-stop single-handed round-the-world yacht race, one of the most demanding races in the world. In 1968 nine sailors started the 27,000-nautical mile, one-year race—and only one sailor finished. That was the last time the race took place.
“It requires unyielding grit, endurance and perseverance—all traits engrained in Palestinian refugees and those living under occupation,” Amra said. “What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger, and I have faith that we will come out of this unjust occupation stronger.”
Amra is using his savings to refit a boat in England, rig it with the necessary equipment to survive, and train for the grueling race, which starts in Falmouth, England on June 14. Competitors must sail solo, using the same type of yacht and gear available 50 years ago—no modern equipment to communicate, cook or navigate.
His father, a lieutenant commander surgeon in the Navy, was also an adventurer and might have loved the idea of his son’s goal, but Amra admits the rest of his family has great apprehension.
Washington Report readers can help make this race a reality by donating to Amra’s “Go Fund Me” page. He hopes you’ll also encourage him by visiting his website, TeamPalestineGGR.com, or following his progress on the Golden Globe website. Local schools in Minnesota plan to write him letters in advance that he can read when he feels alone and low during the next year. Amra hopes that sailing in this race will give Palestinian children something to cheer for as he raises global interest in his effort.