Many of the people who shared my story last week about Palestinian students visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau expressed the hope that this might signal the start of a small but significant shift in attitudes between young Israelis and Palestinians.
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I regret to report that there was little sign of hope in the responses from the West Bank after the East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds carried an almost verbatim version of my story over the weekend.
The talkbacks were mostly poisonous, with some accusing Professor Mohammed Dajani of Al-Quds University, who led the visit, of “brainwashing” his students by repeating “lies and fabrications” about the Holocaust. Many of the more extreme comments were deleted by the newspaper’s editors.
Some of the readers’ comments were more supportive, but overall the tone was one of condemnation. Fadi Aurouri, a prominent Palestinian journalist in Ramallah, condemned the trip and its organizers on his Facebook page, while Hamas reported the trip on its official website in a manner that left no doubt about their disapproval.
Al-Watan TV commentator Abdullah Dweikat ignored the fact that Israeli students were visiting Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem as part of the same conflict resolution program and slammed the students for not visiting Palestinian refugees to see their suffering. He condemned the “pilgrimage” to Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Let us first pay attention to our martyrs and their families,” he wrote.
More depressing were the responses from West Bank universities. Al-Quds University, where Dajani is professor of American studies and director of the university library, effectively disowned him, declaring that the trip was a private, unauthorized initiative and that Prof Dajani is currently on leave. “The university lecturer and the students involved acted in their personal capacity and were not representatives of the university,” said a statement.
The Public Relations Office of Birzeit University complained that I had incorrectly reported that students from that institution were involved in the trip. Graduates of Birzeit – and of An-Najah University in Nablus – were indeed with the group in Poland, but Birzeit undergraduates were forced to pull out at the last minute even though they had visas and were preparing to leave with the others, following enormous peer pressure.