Hellanback stood on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea,
in the demilitarized zone of the Sinai desert, a mile or two northwest
of Romani. The players called it a "restricted military zone."
He reckoned his position from a line of barbed wire and tank traps
drawn by the Egyptian military over the desert sands, which he'd
crossed a couple of miles back, and a map he had seen at the American
University in Cairo. On the other side of the DMZ was a similar
line, drawn by the Israelis. Lines drawn with the artistry of
dogs pissing off their territorial limits.
It was September and thousands of miles to the west, in
Washington, D.C., Egyptian president Anwar el?Sadat was speaking
at the opening festivities of the first Israeli/Egyptian policy
parlays in Camp David. Mr. Sadat's keynote address expressed Egypt's
commitment to the principle that "every individual, regardless
of race, religion, or national origin, be allowed to visit the
sacred places in the city of Jerusalem."
Despite Mr. Sadat's Camp David pretensions, on the every
day, perhaps at that very moment he was making his Camp David
pitch, an Egyptian was shooting at Hellanback, en route to visit
the sacred places in the City of Jerusalem.
Nearly four thousand years before, so the story goes, there
occurred a Hebraic flight from pharaonic oppression. Hardly a
Jew, Moslem, or Christian does not revere the Mosaic legends.
Hellanback had been drawn through the "restricted military
area" and into the "demilitarized zone" in the
hope that, by following the path taken 4,000 years earlier by
the Children of Israel, he might discover a clearer understanding
of reality, God's will, and humanity's relation to its Creator.
Idealistic, eccentric, insane? Maybe, but how can one be
certain before "reality" has been defined?
In Camp David heads of states discussed peaceful co?existence
in idealistic speeches. In fact, the leaders' words might have
expressed only the popular notion of Imaginary Reality: "reality
is what one perceives to be true." Proceeding from that same
popular notion might lead to the conclusions that the Earth is
flat, the Sun revolves about it, and that "truth" is
whatever nonsense an individual can imagine. Alternatively, the
notion of Imaginary Reality would not foreclose the possibility
that looking for God in the Sinai is perfectly rational.
Hellanback had begun his trek to the Promised Land by swimming
around the promontory at Port Fuad, floating across the pools
of a salt farm, walking, crawling to avoid Egyptian patrols in
a restricted military area in the northern Sinai.
Like the surface of an arid sea, irregular plates of sun?baked
dirt had stretched across his path. At first, moving over the
plates and lapping cracks which separated them, Hellanback could
have been walking on water. After he'd gone some distance the
crusted mud began to crack as he walked. With each step his feet
sank deeper into the clutching black muck lurking beneath the
sun-baked crust. Every step became more difficult than the step
before. Hoping the crust would begin to harden up he pressed on.
Some hundred and fifty yards into the mud field he was thigh deep
and each step became closer to being an insurmountable task. The
sun was intense, his strength spent. It was impossible to walk
further in the mud, he saw no way out. Hopelessly stuck in the
mud, baking in the desert sun, he began to think his quest might
He thought. With great effort he managed to squirm his
legs out of the clutching mud. He lay flat on the hard dirt crust.
With his weight spread out he found that the crust of the mud
would support him. He rolled carefully back off the mud field
to solid ground. Saved by an idea.
The DMZ was only a few miles away. He was in danger of
discovery at any minute. He headed east toward Romani.
Moving constantly without food or drink for forty hours,
Hellanback had reached the end of his endurance. With the DMZ
line well behind him, he thought it safe to risk a nap. He lay
down about twenty?five feet from the sea. He had barely fallen
asleep when he heard voices and opened his eyes to find several
men with rifles approaching him. Sprinting for the sea, Hellanback
dove into the surf. He swam under water until the need for oxygen
drove him to the surface. He broke the water gently, facing toward
the shore. One of the men on the beach swung his rifle to his
shoulder and jerked off a shot. Hellanback hurriedly submerged
and continued swimming out to sea. The current was strong and
his lungs ached. He surfaced again to discover that the strong
current had held him close to the beach, and that one of the marksmen
was drawing a quick bead. He ducked without taking a deep breath.
Almost immediately he ran out of air. The men on shore were aiming
in his direction. Back under water, he realized that, if he wasn't
going to get shot, he would have to drown.
Next time he broke the surface Hellanback put his hands
in the air. The men on the beach held their fire. He made his
way back to shore, and into Egyptian custody.
Despite his protestations to the UN personnel at the DMZ
line, he was driven back to Cairo in an Egyptian jeep.