Dr. Mohammed Dajani challenged one of the biggest taboos in Palestinian society when he took a group of Palestinian students to visit the death camps of Europe. Without this kind of education, he says, reconciliation is impossible.
By Adam Grannick
In 2014, Dr. Mohammed Dajani, formerly director and founder of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University, stirred controversy after he led a group of Palestinian students on an educational trip to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland.
Upon Dajani’s return from Poland and in the subsequent weeks and months, he faced defamation and violent backlash, including his car being torched. “We are breaking a big taboo,” he explains. “We are challenging the collective narrative of the Palestinians regarding the Holocaust.” For him, reconciliation is impossible without this type of education.
Dajani comes from a background of strong Palestinian nationalism, and his intention was far from convincing his students to adopt the Zionist narrative. Rather, he wanted to give his students an opportunity to learn more about the conflict’s roots.
Moreover, it is difficult to deal with the idea that Holocaust education is a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. “There was a demonstration by Hamas, where they brought guns and models of rockets… and people argued that this was freedom of speech,” Dajani says. “But taking students to learn about the Holocaust, people did not consider to be academic freedom.”
Even so, the impact of the trip goes far beyond the backlash he and his students received. One of the trip participants, a young woman, emotionally explains that she “couldn’t sleep well, because of the nightmares. I felt like there were millions of people living here, and they just disappeared… in a moment.”
Dajani is extremely uncomfortable with Jews using the Holocaust “to rationalize, for [Palestinians], why they had to deport us from our homes in order for them to come and live in them. It doesn’t mean,” he insists, “that if we learn about the Holocaust we will not demand our rights, or [will] lose our national identity.”
Adam Grannick is the Multimedia Producer at the Moral Courage Project. He tweets at @moralcourage.