A professor who took a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz has been disowned by his university and branded a ‘traitor’ by those in his community, reports the Daily Mail.
Professor Mohammed Dajani took 27 Palestinian college students to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in March as part of a project designed to teach empathy and tolerance. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were imprisoned and murdered at the Auschwitz complex during the Holocaust.
Upon his return, his university disowned the trip, his fellow Palestinians branded him a traitor and friends advised an extended vacation abroad until the controversy died down.
Dajani said he expected criticism, though not the level that the trip has received. “I believe a trip like this, for an organized group of Palestinian youth going to visit Auschwitz, is not only rare, but a first,” he said. “I thought there would be some complaints, then it would be forgotten.”
But the trip was explosive news to some, heightened by rumors — untrue — that the trip was paid for by Jewish organizations. It was in fact paid for by the German government, and organized by one of the oldest faculties of Protestant theology in Europe, at the Center for Reconciliation Studies at Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany.
Palestinian critics of the trip included newspaper columnists, TV analysts and fellow researchers in the West Bank, some who labeled the trip “treason.”
It is the semi-official position of the Palestinians, and much of the rest of the Arab world, to deny or downplay the Holocaust and the fate of Jews during World War II. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas even authored a doctoral dissertation denying most Holocaust history, and the subject is largely ignored in Palestinian textbooks.
Dajani said that many Palestinians think the Holocaust is used by Jews and Israelis as propaganda to create sympathy for Israel. Others, he said, think the Holocaust is exaggerated or just one of many massacres that occurred during World War II.
Dajani is a proponent of moderate Islam and moderate politics. He founded a group dedicated to both, called Wasatia, in 2007. He supports two states for two peoples and thinks Jerusalem should be shared by Israelis and Palestinians. He believes that if one wishes to engage the Israelis, one must understand where they are coming from, and the Holocaust is a big part of that.
One university student who went on the trip but asked not to be named because of the charged atmosphere said the visit changed him. “You feel the humanity. You feel the sympathy of so many people killed in this place because of their race or religion.”
“Most people said we shouldn’t go,” the student said. “It is a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp. But I would recommend the trip.”
Al-Quds University issued an emphatic statement saying that Dajani and the students were not representatives of the university.