“It is impossible for me to make believe that there was no human tragedy perpetrated against millions of Jews and non-Jews.”
Zeina M. Barakat for The AtlanticIn March, I was one of 27 Palestinian students who visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps with Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi. When we returned from Poland, the condemnation of our trip—and of Professor Dajani himself—in the media, and on Facebook and Twitter, was deafening. Equally deafening was the silence of my fellow travelers, who were so cowed into muteness by the virulence of the criticism that only a couple came to Professor Dajani’s defense.
As the coordinator of the Palestinian team, I am now breaking this silence.
For the last decade—ever since I enrolled in the American Studies program at al-Quds University in Jerusalem, received my master’s degree, and then moved to the other side of the desk to became a lecturer—Professor Dajani has been my teacher and mentor. Learning about the Holocaust—and its universal message about the threat of intolerance and genocide—has been a central theme of our work. Together, we co-authored with Martin Rau a book in Arabic on the Holocaust to create awareness of this most tragic event among Palestinians. We distributed the book both inside and outside the university, delivered lectures to civic groups, and showed films on the Holocaust in our workshops. More than once, we took our students to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Finally, the time came to travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This was not solely a Palestinian affair. Our program, titled “From Stone to Flesh,” was a joint effort of three institutions—Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Tel Aviv University, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev—along with a Palestinian civil-society group founded by Professor Dajani called “al-Wasatia,” which means “moderation” in Arabic. The weeklong trip to Poland was funded by the German Research Foundation. Al-Quds University played no role in the program.
When we Palestinians returned from the unprecedented visit, a voyage that broke historic barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding, we were welcomed not with thanks and congratulations but with an explosion of criticism. Professor Dajani was the target of especially vicious attack by extreme Palestinian nationalists, who accused him of “selling out” to the Jews.