Auschwitz entrance
Auschwitz entranceThinkstock

A Palestinian Arab professor is under fire for taking his students on a visit to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust, the Seattle Times reports Sunday - making his mission to fight Holocaust denial even stronger. 

Professor Mohammed Dajani is the director of American studies program at Al-Quds University, a PA-based school best known for hosting a controversial "Nazi-style" rally. After his return from his trip abroad, Palestinian Arab critics branded him a traitor, Dajani said - and he was advised to go into hiding or take a sabbatical abroad. 

“People said we were giving support to Zionism and promoting its propaganda, as if we were giving up on our rights,” Dajani stated to the Times

Dajani heads an organization called Wasatia, which aims to promote moderation and reconciliation in the Palestinian Arab world. His idea to take students to Auschwitz took shape after he visited the death camp on a visit sponsored by the Aladdin Project, an organization that promotes understanding between Muslims and Jews. 

Dajani felt that the visit is an important wake-up call for Palestinian Arabs and their attitude toward the Jewish people. 

“In my community you see a lot of ignorance of the Holocaust, denial of the Holocaust," Dajani said. "People don’t want to recognize the suffering of the other,” Dajani said. “I felt that I did not want to be a bystander, and wanted to bring more awareness and consciousness among Palestinians of this issue.”

Palestinian Arab society feeds on Holocaust denial, fueled in no small part by a victimization culture and the widespread use of a Holocaust denial text - written by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - in the PA school system.

In Gaza, Hamas frequently threatens genocide against Jews and Israelis - making learning about the Holocaust nothing short of taboo. 

“The Holocaust is not taught in Palestinian schools and universities,” Dajani lamented. “It is a history ignored, mentioned as part of a plot to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, or as Zionist propaganda with exaggerated figures.”

As such, Dajani has advocated publicly for Holocaust education among Palestinian Arabs, devoting part of his classes to the project and taking trips to the death camps to prove to his students that the Holocaust happened.

This trip to Auschwitz was arranged as part of a reconciliation research project sponsored by the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, according to the Times.  The project was funded by the German Research Foundation, and included Israeli students and faculty from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Be'er Sheva. 

“We didn’t want to jeopardize the visit, so we kept it very quiet,” he added, noting that applications were sought “by word-of-mouth,” and there was no prior announcement of the trip, thought to be the first of its kind.

“I visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem three years ago, but here it was different,” said Salim Sweidan, a former graduate student at Al-Quds who joined the trip. “When you step on the soil where millions were killed, it leaves a big impression.”

“People accused us of showing sympathy with the occupier, but I say no, this was sympathy with the human beings who were killed there,” Sweidan added.

Following the trip, Al-Quds issued a statement distancing itself from Dajani and the concept of Holocaust eduction. Several columnists in the Palestinian Arab press also claimed that the trip was a hypocritical claim to "overshadow" the suffering of the "Palestinian refugees" still living in other Arab countries. 

Despite the condemnations, however, Sweidan said many people privately expressed support to participants, calling their visit "a brave step" and acknowledging that the public atmosphere had kept them from speaking out.

Dajani, in the meantime, refuses to be intimidated.

“I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I would do it again.”