A MARTINEZ, HOST:
And now, a twist on the old story of a message in a bottle washing up on a distant shore. It's usually a marooned shipwreck victim who floats the bottle out to sea. But as NPR's Daniel Estrin tells us about a message sent off from an island that reached a place that feels even more cut off from the world.
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DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Jihad al-Soltan has worked as a fisherman for 25 years, but he's never caught anything like this.
JIHAD AL-SOLTAN: (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: It was just another Tuesday on the shores of Gaza when he saw a bottle bobbing in the sea. He pulled it in with his fishing net. Here he is reading the letter he found inside.
SOLTAN: (Reading) Hello. Thank you for picking up this...
BETHANY WRIGHT: (Reading) ...Bottle. We are currently on holiday in Rhodes, and we would love to know how far this bottle got, even if it just got to the next beach. Please email me.
ESTRIN: That's Bethany Wright, a 22-year-old university student from the U.K. She and her boyfriend, Zac Marriner, were on a Greek island when they cast that message in a bottle into the sea. It traveled nearly 500 miles across the Mediterranean to Gaza, where Soltan, the 54-year-old fisherman, caught it a month later.
SOLTAN: (Through interpreter) I'm sure when they threw the bottle in the sea, they wanted to get an answer, and I wanted to make them happy.
ESTRIN: So he asked his son-in-law, an English teacher, to email the British couple on his behalf. The fisherman calls them his first foreign friends.
WRIGHT: The message that he sent just completely brought a tear to my eye.
SOLTAN: (Through interpreter) People think Palestinians are terrorists and primitive. I wanted to show the real face of the Palestinian people in the besieged Gaza Strip - that we are hospitable, civilized and educated people.
UNIDENTIFIED MUEZZIN: (Chanting in Arabic).
ESTRIN: For the past decade, ever since the Palestinian militant group Hamas took control of the territory, its neighbors Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade, restricting who and what can go in and out. There is mail and, of course, email. But to Wright, the bottle's journey felt like fate. It connected her to a place she couldn't easily visit herself.
WRIGHT: This little bottle was carried by the sea, could have landed anywhere but landed there. And that shows the complete unity in the world there is.
ESTRIN: She had hoped for one reply, but she ended up getting hundreds of emails from around the world because after NPR published this story online a week ago, it was picked up around the world, including on many Arabic websites. An Israeli military commander even wrote about it on Facebook. Many people in Gaza emailed her, saying they wish they had found her message in a bottle and wishing the couple a happy life.
Daniel Estrin, NPR News.
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