Mohammad Khalid Al Qadi unfurls the Palestine flag on the summit of a mountain in the Alps Image Credit: Rafique Gangat

With horrific images of Palestinian children, the innocent victims of the recent war on Gaza, strewn all over the media and etched into the minds of people around the world, Mohammad Khalid Al Qadi from the small village of Silat Al Thahr near Jenin is determined to change the picture.

The 24-year-old and he lives in Lyon, France, and though he visits family only once a year, he has embarked on a personal journey to show the world that, for dreams and hope, sky’s the limit.

“When I was 10, my father who is a simple peasant, told me about Mt Everest and how climbers have been able to defy danger and conquer it. He said, ‘Mohammad if you can climb Everest, you will be able to achieve anything in your life.’That is what has inspired me to get out of Palestine and climb to achieve my dreams.”

Al Qadi attended school in his village and then enrolled to study engineering at The Palestinian Technical University in Tulkarem. But he was forced to drop out because of the lack of funds. “While I was at University, I lost friends during the Intifada and many of them are still in Israeli prisons. Life was tough, but we in Palestine are taught to survive and never to give up, no matter what. I even became a peace activist and joined a Jordanian organisation, ‘Generation for Peace’, which brought children from the villages and cities together and instilled a sense of unity in us,” he said.

Al Qadi has a passion for cooking, which he traces back to his childhood when he would help his mother in the kitchen. Two years ago, he left his village for Lyon and enrolled at The Institute Paul Bocuse, a school of cuisine, to learn about the culinary arts. “Although I love Palestinian cuisine I think French cuisine has something very special and it is the best in the world,” he said. “During the school term, I work part-time as an assistant chef, but during the vacation, I am the head chef in a French restaurant in Lyon, and this is how I earn a living and pay for my studies.”

But how does climbing fit into the scheme of life for a Palestinian/French chef in the making? “I began climbing at 14 — Jabal Al Nar in Nablus in Palestine and the feeling of reaching the top was exhilarating. Not happy with the view, I wanted to continue and climb higher mountains. Being in France, I understand the meaning of Freedom and this inspires me to do what I really want to do in life.

“I joined a climbing club and began training since then. On March 30, I climbed a mountain in the Alps, with an eight-member team. It took us four days, with lots of rest and teamwork. On reaching the top, 3,060 metres, I planted the Palestinian flag and began to scream out that I have achieved half my dream and Mt Everest is now in my sights. I want to hoist my flag on the highest peak in the world. It was a most wonderful feeling!” he said

Al Qadi documented his adventure and shared it on his Twitter account, with 115,000 persons congratulating him on his remarkable achievement, which he says, “made a huge impact and created so much interest in me and what I was doing. Even Mohammad Assaf, the Arab Idol, got to know of my achievement and he shared my photograph on his Twitter account. Palestinians want to see positive stories instead of the killings we are used to seeing. I want to bring happiness to people, even if for only one day. My message to the youth is simple — I was like you and this is what I have done, and you too can do it. Let me be an inspiration and bring hope to my people.”

He stresses that he worked hard and paid for this achievement, noting: “If you want someone to help you, you have to first help yourself and only then can people believe in you to assist you.”

Word of Al Qadi’s achievement reached a journalist in Qatar, who in turn tweeted it on her account. “One month later,” he said, “a leading telecommunications company committed to fund the cost of climbing Mt Everest, which is 8,848 metres high, and the total cost of the climb is estimated at 60,000 euros (Dh285,159). My target date to conquer Mt Everest is April 2016. Meanwhile I am in training daily with my club and doing lots of work in the gym, running and swimming.”

Next year, Al Qadi has set his sights on climbing and reaching three mountain summits in Alaska, Argentina and Ecuador, all in preparation for his final climb. To fund these climbs, he is at present seeking financial assistance, and communicating his needs through social media.

About living alone in France and away from his Palestinian family, Al Qadi says, “It is hard to live alone after being with my family for 22 years, I have learnt French and I am able to explain our story much better. Thanks to Skype, I am able to talk to my family every day. Travelling in and out of airports as a Palestinian has many difficulties, and it is this image that I intend to fix, because we don’t have a strong media. We are human and we are defending ourselves, we don’t need war but resistance is a right.”

Al Qadi, who has four brothers, says about his family, “My father is proud of me but my mum and brothers are afraid for me. If I conquer Mt Everest, I will be able to do whatever I want, is what my father said to me. My dream after that would be to open a restaurant. Only 4,000 have climbed Everest and as the first Palestinian youth to climb Everest, I would be sending an important message for all my people, that we are here and we need the occupation to end to live in peace.”

Through the Everest expedition, Al Qadi will try and raise funds for Palestinian refugees to alleviate the dire circumstances they are living in. “By raising the flag on the highest peak in the world, I will be helping my people by sending a message that we are here and nobody can remove us from our land and we will never give up our rights,” he said. “I am not afraid, I need to do it. If I die, I will know that I tried. It’s not going to be easy, it’s dangerous but there’s no turning back, I am going to do it!”

He concludes by recalling a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. “The land is as wide as your dreams, so goodbye despair.”

Al Qadi is a determined young man on an adventure who has come a long way from his village, surmounting much on his journey. There is still some way to go — and now there is no stopping and no turning back.