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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 11,2014 PAGE 15A i i Palestinian stttdents visit Auschwitz in first organized visit Porisrael Mohammed Danjani, professor of American Studies at A1-Quds University. (Haaretz) A group of 30 Palestinian students arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in what is believed to be the first organized visit by Palestinian students to a Nazi death camp. The students spent several days in Krak6w and Oswiecim guided by two Jewish Holo- caust survivors. A news blackout on the trip was requested by the organizers. In fact, the pres- ence of the Palestinian group at Auschwitz-Birkenau was reported in Haaretz for the first time on March 31. The students from AI- Quds University and Birzeit University, near Ramallah, participated in a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The program's aim is for Is- raeli and Palestinian students to learn about the suffering that has helped shape the historical consciousness of the other side. Last week, a group of Israeli students visitedthe Dheisheh refugee camp, located south of Bethlehem, to learn about the Palestinian experience of suffering during the founding of Israel in 1948--known to Palestinians as the Nakba ("the catastrophe"). The re- actions of each group will be studied by a group of doctor- ate psychology students to see whether exposure to the conflicting historical nar- rative helps the students to understand their enemy, and facilitates efforts toward rec- onciliation and coexistence. The Palestinian side of the program is directed by Mohammed S. Dajani, profes- sor of American Studies at AI-Quds. Because of the Pal- estinian freeze on joint proj- ects with Israeli universities, the Palestinian students are participating under the ban- ner of Prof. Dajani's Wasatia movement of moderate Islam. Israeli groups regularlyvisit refugee camps in the West Bank searching for cross- border understanding, but the Palestinian visit to Auschwitz is unprecedented. It grew out of a visit by Prof. Dajani as part of a large Jewish-Muslim- Christian delegation in 2011,__ after which he coauthored a New York Times op-ed titled "Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust." Since then, Prof. Dajani has written what he believes to be the first objective in- troduction to the Holocaust for Palestinian students in Arabic. which he hopes will become a textbook used in Palestinian schools and uni- versities. "Basically, we want to study how empathy with the 'Other' could help in the pro- cess of reconciliation." Prof. Dajanl says. "I feel I would like Palestinians to explore the unexplored, and to meet these challenges where you might find that within their community there will be a lot of pressure on them not Immedi00 tte response: condemn visit to Auschwitz (MediaScan)--A visit by Palestinian students to Nazi death camps has stirred con- troversy among Palestinians, with some condemning it as form of "normalization" with Israel. The visit to the Nazi camps has angered some Palestin- ians, prompting A1-Quds University to distance itself from the tour. The university and its outgoing president, Sari Nusseibeh, had often been criticized for promoting "normalization" with Israel. In a statement, Al-Quds University announced that it had nothing to do with the Auschwitz-Birkenau visit. The university said that this was a private visit by Profes- sor Dajani and the students. "They do not represent the university," the statement said. "Professor Dajani is on leave and was not entrusted by the university [to arrange the visit]." AI-Quds Universitywent on to emphasize that it remains committed to a 2009 deci- sion by its administration to cut off all ties with Israeli universities. As soon as "anti-normaliza- tion" activists learned about the visit, they launched a scathing attack on the pro- fessor and students on social media. "I don't understand how the [Palestinian] students accept normalization [with Israel]," wrote a Palestinian journalist from Ramallah on his Facebook page. "This professor is the king of kings of normalization." The leading Palestinian daily, AI-Quds,which reported about the controversial visit, triggered a debate among readers about the effective- ness of such tours. The paper later had to delete some reader responses that accused the professor of treason and collaboration. One reader commented, "The visit should be seen in the context of attempts to scrap the Palestinians' history and culture. Suspicious Western parties believe that there is a need to change the Palestin- ians' mentality not through politics, but by brainwashing generations and teaching them big lies and fabrications such as the Holocaust and the suffering of Jews so that they would accept the theft of their land." Another reader remarked, "Our enmity is not with the Jews and no one can accuse us of being anti-Semites. Our enmity is with the Zionists who usurped our land. But can anyone deny that the Zi- onists exploit what happened to the Jews in Germany and elsewhere to justify what they did in Palestine and seek the world's sympathy?" Finally, some of us have joined the chorus of weepers." But there is also good news. Many readers came to the defense .of Professor Dajani and the students who.visited the Nazi camps to learn about the Holocaust. Responding to the crit- icism, one reader wrote, "Frankly, these responses are theatrical. Academics went on a tour and that's all. There's no need to politicize an insignificant visit." Another reader who voiced support for the visit said, "We have politicized everything expect for the embezzlement of public funds. Is it okay to steal millions of dollars from the people and not okay to have an academic study mission?" Palestinian columnist Abdullah Dweikat expressed regret over the visit and called on Palestinian academics to stop the "pilgrimage" to Nazi death camps. "I felt pain over the visit by Palestinian univer- sity students to Auschwitz- Birkenau," he wrote. "Yes we are human beings who reject genocide. But our humanity rejects any attempt to bypass the suffering of our people, who are being slaughtered every day at the hands of the occupiers. Wouldn't it have been better had our professors and students visited Yarmouk refugee camp [in Syria] or refugee camps in Lebanon to see the real suffering?" The Palestinian Authority [PA] has neither endorsed nor opposed the visit to the Nazi death camps. The PA leader- ship is obviously afraid of being part of the controversy that has risen over the visit. Hamas, on the other hand, has expressed strong op- position to teaching about the Holocaust in Gaza Strip schools run by the United Na- tions Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA]. Hamas said that teaching the Holocaust was a "crime against Palestinians." It now remains to be seen if Professor Dajani and his stu- dents will be punished upon their return to the West Bank for daring to "sympathize" with the suffering of Jews. to do it or questioning why they are doing it, or that this is propaganda. I feel that's nonsense." Prof. Dajani says more than 70 students applied for the 30 places on the Poland trip, but five later dropped out because of peer pressure. He says the choice of Dheisheh for the Israeli students was not meant to suggest there was an equivalence or even a direct link between the Holocaust and the Nakba. They were chosen as the symbolic events that have deeply affected the psyche on both sides of the conflict. "We are seeking knowl- edge," he says. "We are seeking to know what has happened; why did it happen; how can it be prevented from happen- ing again? ,I believe it is very important to break this wall of bigotry, ignorance" and racism that has separated us from crossing over to this new realm." "One of my students asked me why we should, learn about the Holocaust when the Israelis want to ban even the use of the word 'NakbaY he adds: "My response was: 'Because in doing so, you will be doing the right thing. If they are not doing the right thing, that's their problem.'" Prof. Dajani,who was banned from Israel for 25 years for his activities for Fatah in Leba- non in the 1970s and '80s, says the student program is a practical expression of his belief that Israelis and Palestinians can settle their differences through compro- mise, moderation and human contact. He says his own visit to the Nazi death camp had a profound effect that he wishes to share with his students. "I was also raised in the culture of denial, so for me, to go and see and look and be on the ground - it was a very sad experience for me. It had a lot of impact," he admits. "I was shocked about the inhu- manity of man to man. How can this happen? Why did it happen? Why would man be this cruel? "It was shocking for me, because it showed me the deep, deep, dark side of human evil," he adds. Prof. Dajani has a track record of espousing views that are unpopular with the Pales- tinian academic mainstream. He is one of the few Palestinian professors to openly oppose the call for Palestinians and others to boycott Israeli uni- versities. Hanna Siniora, a veteran campaigner for Israeli-Pal- estinian reconciliation, says Prof. Dajani's initiative should be welcomed. "It's very im- portant for people to see the viciousness of such acts," he says. "I t should touch them in their humanity, in their sense of understanding that human beings don't do evil things like that. This has caused a major problem in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, because the psyche of the Israelis is so tormented by what happened to the Jewish people that they cannot trust anybody. "This is an educational trip. It opens the eyes and minds," he adds. "If there is an empty place, I'd like to come along," he says. Happy Passover Maitland Tire Company Robert A. 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