Palestinian Professor Who Took Students to Auschwitz Responds to Threats

Denounced as a traitor and collaborator with Israel, Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi says students learned not to stand by human misery.

Matthew Kalman
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The gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.Credit: AP
Matthew Kalman

The Palestinian professor who led his students in conflict resolution on a historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau has responded to his critics, declaring that he will not be silenced and, if given the chance, he would do it again.

Al-Quds University Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi had been denounced as a traitor and collaborator and warned not to enter Ramallah.

As first reported in Haaretz two weeks ago, Professor Dajani took 30 Palestinian students to Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau in March as part of a joint program on conflict resolution called “Hearts of Flesh – Not Stone” organized by Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and funded by the German Research Foundation. Israeli students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev visited the Dheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem as part of the same project.

"The trip went well as planned,” Prof Dajani told me when he returned home to Jerusalem. “It helped to explore what lessons would be learnt, and to instill commitment to alleviate human misery by not being a bystander.”

”The students learnt a lot from this visit about human suffering,” he said. “The visit gave them an in-depth understanding of the various aspects of the Holocaust. They now have answers for those who deny the Holocaust. ‘I was there. I saw what happened. I walked on the ground where it happened.’ I find it difficult to understand why anyone would oppose such a visit since students learnt much more than they would sitting in a classroom.”

”Such atrocities should not be repeated anywhere and for any reason,” he told me. “They were committed by zealots and extremists and they can be prevented from happening in the future by spreading a culture of moderation, tolerance, and acceptance of the fact we do not need to be copies of each other to exist together and live with one another."

But after a mistranslation of the Haaretz story appeared in Arabic media, Professor Dajani was subjected to a wave of poisonous criticism in commentaries and reader talkbacks. Al-Quds University distanced itself from the trip, saying the professor and his students were acting in a “personal capacity.”

Editors at Al-Quds, the East Jerusalem daily that carried the first, fairly accurate Arabic version of the Haaretz story, removed the more vicious reader talkbacks, then decided to delete the story from their website altogether.

On Thursday, Prof Dajani responded to the threats and criticism on the project’s Facebook page.

“I will not be a bystander,” Prof Dajani wrote. “I received emails warning me not to go to Ramallah or the university. I was accused of trying to change the Palestinians' mentality ‘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.'"

“My response to all this tirade is that my duty as a teacher is to teach, to have my students explore the unexplored, to open new horizons for my students, to guide my students out of the cave of perceptions and misperceptions to see the facts and the reality on the ground, to break the walls of silence, to demolish the fences of taboos, to swim against the tide in search of truth, in sum, to advance the knowledge and learning of my students in adhering to the verse in the Holy Quran, ‘And say My God increase my knowledge...’ If there are those who do not see or do not like that, it is their problem not mine.”

“I will go to Ramallah, I will go to the university, I will put my photos of the visit on Facebook, and I do not regret for one second what I did. As a matter of fact, I will do it again if given the opportunity. I will not hide, I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of the suffering I show empathy for are my occupiers. And this is my final statement on this issue.”