JERUSALEM: Among the groups who visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem recently was one unusual group: Twenty-seven Palestinian youths from the West Bank who came on their own initiative in order to learn about the Holocaust.
The person behind the initiative is A., a 28-year-old from the Ramallah area.
“I know Israelis,” he said. “I attended several meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, but wanted to know more about the Holocaust. I e-mailed some of my friends and wrote about the idea on Facebook. I was surprised by the response. I got more than 60 positive responses from people I didn’t know from Ramallah, Hebron and other places.”
As expected, not everyone liked the idea. “People had a hard time accepting it,” A. said. “Some told me, ‘The holocaust is happening now in Gaza.’”
Nevertheless, A. assembled a group and approached Yad Vashem for a tour and received a positive reply. Ultimately, only 27 people arrived due to technical reasons, but A. is convinced it won’t be the last Palestinian group.
The group’s members were mostly students in their 20s and 30s. The others are wage earners, some working for the Palestinian Authority. The group even included a former security prisoner who served 12 years in an Israeli prison.
“I believe that when it comes to people, the pain is the same pain,” A. said. “Most Palestinians and Arabs don’t even believe there was a Holocaust. Most Palestinians know Israelis as occupiers and nothing beyond that. Israelis don’t know Palestinians and their suffering. I hope this visit will help both our peoples to think ahead. We need to build a common future.”
Despite these statements, A. claims he wasn’t surprised by the tough images he saw in the museum. “I saw the difficult imagess from Auschwitz, but ‘I’m used to images of violence from our reality here,” he said.
D.is a female resident of Hebron in her early 20s who joined the group in order to learn more about the Holocaust.
“As a Palestinian I feel that many of my rights have been stolen from me — just take for example the restrictions on movement and the road blocks I had to endure on my way here. I lost many friends in the last ten years. But I think that if one wants to achieve peace one has to understand the Israelis and their need for an army and security,” she said.
The members of the group held a tour of the Holocaust history museum, and took part in discussions at the School for Holocaust Studies.
“They came with an enormous baggage of lack of knowledge and prejudices,” their guide Yaakov Yaniv said. “They knew nothing of the Nazi ideology, and they spoke of the Holocaust in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Yaniv talked to the group extensively about the Nazi ideology. He also told them his personal story, as someone who had lost most of his family in the Holocaust and about his wish as a boy to have had the chance to sit on his grandfather’s lap and play with his beard. It was important to him to explain to them that this was not just another political conflict. Yaniv concluded that he “didn’t know what effect the visit had on the group but that they all left in an extremely pensive mood”.
Zvi Singer writes for the Hebrew daily “Yediot Aharonot”. As a veteran journalist with Yediot, and previously for Maariv, Singer has covered many aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations including settlements, party politics, education and religion and state. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with the permission of the author and Ynetnews.