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Palestinian Students Visit Auschwitz For Educational Trip, Return Home To Sharp Criticism

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A group of Palestinian students and their professor who visited Auschwitz in March have returned home to sharp criticism from their university, The Washington Post reports.

Dr. Mohammed Dajani, a professor at the Palestinian Al-Quds University, lead a group of 27 students on what may have been the first organized visit of Palestinian students to a Nazi concentration camp. The program -- entitled Hearts of Flesh - Not Stone -- came about as part of a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution run by the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Hareetz reports.

Students from Al-Quds who went on the trip met with Israeli students to learn about one another's heritage and the respective suffering Palestinian and Israeli communities have experienced over the years. From the project's Facebook page:

The project title “Hearts of Flesh – Not Stone” is a reference to an image in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). The image, which is significant for Jewish, Christian and Muslim cultures, gives insight into the central questions of this project which seeks to understand the movement of individuals and groups from lesser to greater willingness for reconciliation. Working in a transdisciplinary manner, we expect major results to impact understanding of reconciliation. The second major result impacts society; we want to deepen the understanding on how encounter groups can lead to greater willingness to reconcile.

The project analyses individuals and groups experiencing the “suffering of the other” as a means for understanding how and why groups may become more or less open to reconciliation. This single question forms the focus of the project, which is addressed via three theoretical/methodological approaches:

A. Encountering the suffering of the other (ESO) “experientially”
B. Analyzing the ESO through social psychological experimentation
C. Conceptual analysis of the ESO through theological/sociological/political
disciplines

“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.”

But upon returning from the program, Professor Dajani was reportedly called a "traitor" by some in his community, The Washington Post reports. Al-Quds released a statement via the unrelated Al Quds online news site disowning the trip, saying Dajani and the students "acted in their personal capacity and were not representatives of the university."

Some of the professor's friends reportedly advised him to take a leave of absence, but Dajani says he has "no regrets" about the trip. In a statement posted on Facebook on April 10 Dajani wrote:

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... 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 perpetrators and my occupiers. The aim is not to get any one's approval but to do the right thing.

The trip came in the midst of the Obama administration's renewed efforts toward a Middle East peace deal. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to facilitate negotiations, recent peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have shown little promise of reaching an accord any time soon.

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