Palestinian Mohammed S. Dajani, a political science professor at al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has received criticism from Palestinian media for taking a group of students on an educational trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Since the group returned from its trip in March, the university has denied having any affiliation with the trip. Furthermore, Dajani has had to defend his belief in the importance of teaching Palestinians about the Holocaust.
The trip to Poland, which was paid for by the German Research Foundation, was a joint collaboration between a group of Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli students. While the Palestinian students visited the concentration camp in Poland, the Jewish-Israeli students visited the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem to hear Palestinian refugees tell their story. “To the extent that we can prevent genocide in the future – an uphill task, given the record of the last few decades – understanding what gives rise to it is essential,” Dajani said. “Without discussing the Holocaust, discussing genocide is meaningless.” This trip is but one example of the peace process that some are trying to incorporate into the educational systems in the region.
Dajani is currently the director of the Jerusalem Studies and Research Institute, a member of the YMCA’s board of directors and a professor of American studies at his university. However, Dajani has not always been as passionate about peace and education as he is now. In fact, in 1967, he was recruited and served in the ranks of the Fatwa guerrillas during the Six-Day War.
Since his brief encounter with the military, he has done a lot of work to support and promote moderate views among his fellow Palestinians. In 2007, he founded the Wasatia movement of moderate Islam.
Recently, Dajani has been serving as a visiting fellow of the Washington Institute. In this capacity, he co-wrote an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune titled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”
Another visionary who is working for peace in the Middle East is Sami Awad, who came to speak at Principia for the Euphrates Summit in 2011. Awad was the first to receive the Visionary of the Year award from the Euphrates Institute, and that night he delivered a speech titled “Love Your Enemies”. At the summit, Awad recounted the turning point in his life’s work, when he was invited by American friends to join them in the “Bearing Witness” trip to Auschwitz.
“I went there very hesitantly, because for me as a Palestinian, you never really affiliated yourself with the trauma of the ‘occupier’ because you always wanted to show your side as the victim, and that they were the bad people. Going there in a sense meant that you excused them if you acknowledged the Holocaust,” Awad said. He has described this visit as a life-changing experience, and since then he has founded the Holy Land Trust, a peace-building organization.
Janessa Gans Wilder, founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute, shared her insight when asked about the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I think this issue is particularly important, and it’s not just isolated to Israelis and Palestinians. It has a ripple effect and affects all of us,” she said.
A few years ago, she took a group of Principia students on a three-month abroad to the region, where they got the opportunity to work with Awad for six weeks.“There are hundred of groups that are taking on the tough work of making it better everyday,” she said. “If you look at the political negotiations at the top level, a solution seems impossible, but at the grassroots level, they are proving that peace is possible.”