Palestinian Professor Faces Fallout After Taking Students to Visit Auschwitz

A Palestinian professor has faced accusations of treason and of trying to brainwash Palestinian youth after taking 27 students on a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, the Washington Post reported.

Professor Mohammed Dajani a few weeks ago took his Palestinian students to the historical site where so many Jews were exterminated in the context of a project to teach tolerance and empathy toward others.

“I believe a trip like this, for an organized group of Palestinian youth going to visit Auschwitz, is not only rare, but a first,” Dajani told the Washington Post. “I thought there would be some complaints, then it would be forgotten.”

According to the Post, Dajani returned to a public backlash, including his school, Al-Quds University, disavowing the trip and friends suggesting he even leave town for a while.

An undated image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. Writing over the gate reads: “Arbeit macht frei” (Work Sets You Free). (AP Photo/File)
An undated image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. Writing over the gate reads: “Arbeit macht frei” (Work Sets You Free). (AP Photo/File)

The trip was part of the study in which Dajani took his students to Auschwitz while a group of Jewish Israeli students from Ben-Gurion University and Tel Aviv University visited Bethlehem, where they heard Palestinians from the Dheisheh refugee camp recount their histories. The reactions from each group were then to be studied by researchers.

In disavowing itself from the trip, Al-Quds University said in a statement that Dajani and his students were not representatives of the institution, the Post reported.

Just last month at the same university, pro-Hamas students held a military-style parade on campus in which they carried a mock missile like those used to target Israeli towns. Four months earlier, a pro-Islamic jihad rally was also held on the campus at which students gave Nazi-like salutes. The display led several U.S. colleges to cut ties with the Palestinian institution.

Dajani said his critics told him, “Why go to Poland? Why not teach our young people about the Nakba? ”

The Nakba refers to what Palestinians call the “catastrophe” in 1948 when Arabs fought the fledgling Jewish state and lost. In the wake of the hostilities, some local Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes.

According to the Washington Post, the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds — not connected to the university of the same name — removed an online article about the Auschwitz trip from its website due to the intensely heated comments posted, including one in which a reader likened the trip to “treason.”

Others accused Dajani of trying to brainwash Palestinian youth.

The Post described Dajani as a former “firebrand” in the Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who is now a “proponent of moderate Islam and moderate politics” including “tolerance, reconciliation and dialogue.”

One student who participated in the trip told the Post anonymously, “You feel the humanity. You feel the sympathy of so many people killed in this place because of their race or religion.”

“Most people said we shouldn’t go…it is a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp. But I would recommend the trip,” the student added.

The empathy research project that included the Auschwitz visit was called “Heart of Flesh — Not Stone,” whose name is inspired by the Book of Ezekiel.

While rumors had circulated that Jewish groups had funded the trip, the visit was in fact paid for by the German Research Foundation.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.