Spoiler Alert: Israeli and Palestinian Denials Exposed

[At the end of this blog is an exclusive interview with Dr. Mohammed Dajani that came in while I was writing. This is your incentive to read the entire blog.]

Two things have converged to overcome my resistance, as a social activist in recovery, to writing a political blog. Both relate to Palestine and Israel, the only conflict in which I am still informed by more than normal daily media. I receive five to ten FB videos, articles, and commentary each day in addition to “keeping up” through friends. It is enough to be thoroughly depressed.

I do not know, as I start, if what I will write will be measured or intemperate, if it will be calm or fed up. I learned early that Palestinians are occupied, unprotected, herded, and blamed. I learned this in a dozen plus trips to the area and as the editor-photographer-interviewer for the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women,” available on Amazon.

Earlier, as the founder and head of the international non-profit organization Peace X Peace, I could not say my truth directly. We will discover together what I will say now.

Note: While this blog focuses on Big Lies and Denials of Israelis and Palestinians, the reader needs to remember that every culture has its lies, denials, and convenient rewriting of history. It is just that the conflicts in this region are alive and kicking – and if they can be overcome, they could be a model of immense value for getting beyond the misconceptions, unexamined stereotypes, and just plain slander the rest of us indulge in.

Thing One: having to do with the Holocaust

Dr. Mohammed Dajani, professor at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, recently took 27 Palestinian students to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland. He returned home to what the media calls “sharp criticism.” The university issued a statement clarifying they had nothing to do with the trip, and friends advised him to take a leave of absence.

n-DAJANI-large570Point is: Some Palestinians do not want to fully acknowledge the Holocaust. It is not emotionally or politically expedient, and they believe it is at least partial fabrication. They say Dr. Dajani is participating in brainwashing Palestinian students.

Dr. Dajani is my friend. He is a gentle bear of a man, studious, a bit shy, has a collection of posters from classic American movies, and founded a moderate political movement called “Wasatia” to provide a voice for moderate Muslims. Wasatia provides a model for the majority of Palestinians who want an option other than an extremist Muslim political party on the one hand and secular political party on the other.

He once made a video named “Big Dream/Small Hope.” It started with the big dreams of both sides. A drawing showed the Palestinian dream of all Israelis leaving Israel on EL AL airlines. The next drawing showed the Israeli dream of all Palestinians leaving the West Bank across the desert on camels. He explained, when the laughter died down, that the big dreams weren’t going to come true for either side so we needed to look at realistic small hopes. Taking the students to Auschwitz was a realistic small, and amazingly big, act of courage. It was looking at truth.

Deeply criticized upon their return, Dr. Dajani said:

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 do not regret for one second what I did.  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.

How’s that for a statement against lies and convenient denials?

For me, this event has the added dimension that the trip was co-organized by a peace program of Friedrich Schiller University (FSU) in Jenin, Germany. My first connection with FSU was in 1991 when my then husband William Melton and I chose it to be the German university in the Melton International Education Foundation, the first social network to connect university students. It grew to include a university each in India, China, and Chile plus Dillard University in New Orleans. To experience this connection between Muhammed Dajani and FSU has a surreal quality about it as a circle uniting parts of my past.

Thing Two: having to do with Israeli massacres in 1948

Forget “A land without people for people without land.” It never was the truth. The state of Israel was created in 1948 on land where Palestinians had lived for thousands of years, generation after generation. It was the land of their ancestors, and their olive and lemon grove were family. (Other cultural groups had lived there also over the thousands of years but that is not key to this discussion. Also a minority of Jews had lived there, welcomed and peaceful neighbors, for hundreds of years, which could have been key to this discussion in a parallel universe where people found peaceful means to make changes.)

The first major massacre of Arab Palestinians by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was at Deir Yassin where 250 Arab villagers were slaughtered. It doesn’t take as much killing after something like that to have families flee mid-meal when they heard the IDF was only a mile or two from their village. It was a tactic for clearing the territory, and it worked.

Yet there was more killing. I have met old men, refugees, who were children when they saw it. This truth is denied by people – Jewish or not, Israeli or not – who are unable to accept it as something that came out of the Jewish culture. I experience it as a pattern of selective denial that continues with the occupation and enclosure of the West Bank, the ongoing building of illegal settlements, and the siege of Gaza. It is ugly to look at and examine – but how can it be changed if it cannot be acknowledged?

admission3So when Theater J in Washington DC decided, under the directorship of Ari Roth, to perform “The Admission,” a play that examines a probable 1948 massacre of Palestinians in a small village, an ad hoc group set up to protect the image of Israel in arts launched a campaign to have funds withheld to the Jewish Community Center, which owns the building where Theater J is housed. Their argument was that the play was a lie written and propagated by self-hating Jews. The theater, playwright, and ultimately the JCC stood on the side of art having a right to examine and question.

The production appeared close to being cancelled entirely. Some funds were withheld, but a decision was made to “downgrade” the production to a “workshop” with no sets, no costumes, and a shorter run. What happened was, the funds were more than made up by supporters of Ari and Theater J, and the play was sold out every night, received extensive media coverage – and has been given an extended run in a space in another DC theater. I was involved as a supporter from the beginning.

SO WHAT WE HAVE IS: many Israelis and many Palestinians want to deny the essential truths of the other’s unspeakable injuries – and Israelis are fractured today between those who as least suspect what their government (and extremist settlers) are doing on the other side of the wall, and those who don’t know and don’t want to know. Denial is the name of the game in Israel.

JUST A COUPLE PERSONAL EXPERIENCES: I have been told by Israelis that Gazans should all be nuked because they were so violent (try that one on for size!). And I was once confronted as the key speaker in a public forum of women leaders in Jordan with “Excuse me but I need to do an intervention. Mrs. Melton, you are ignoring the fact that the Jews were behind the attack on the Twin Towers.” “What?” “Everyone knows that. And the Jews were warned not to show up for work there that day.” “It’s a lie.”


Would you make this trip again to Auschwitz?

Certainly I would do this again and for different sectors of society such as women, religious leaders, teachers, journalists, secondary school kids, etc. in order to disseminate the message to the different sectors of the Palestinian community that the Holocaust did take place, it was most evil, and showing respect for the memory of its victims and empathy with those who were the target is the right and moral thing to do.

Is the truth necessary?

The truth is necessary because it is an important part of life. There is an urge in each of us to search for truth and to seek truth. Maybe the search is elusive but it is necessary for our self esteem and self dignity. To know the truth is better than to remain ignorant. I am not for the quote, “Ignorance is bliss.” God in the Quran urges: {And say, O my Lord advance me in knowledge}. God also differentiates between people with knowledge and those who don’t have knowledge: {“God will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have been granted knowledge, to high ranks.”}

If Palestinians know about the Holocaust and if Israelis know and understand the facts of the occupation, including the 1948 Nakba, I believe that this knowledge would generate empathy, and in turn, empathy would advance the reconciliation process.

What is your standing at Al-Quds University now? What is your future?

I am Director of Libraries and Founding Director of the American Studies Center. As for my future, it is in the hands of God.

Are there people who are personally angry with you?  

There are those who are full of anger and frustration among the Palestinians as a result of past and present sufferings and they are directing all their anger and frustration against me. How does it make me feel? It is making me feel like a psychiatrist and not a teacher. It hurts me but it does not matter to me since I know I am doing the right thing.

. . .

Dr. Dajani signed off with wishes for “Happy Holidays.” I extend those wishes and join you, surely, in wishing that all people lived by the best tenets of their religions. And that all of us had less fear of the ugly truths of our historic and current actions and more celebration of the search for truth, as shown by Theater J, Ari Roth, and Mohammed Dajani.


2 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert: Israeli and Palestinian Denials Exposed

  1. Beautifully, bravely, importantly done, Patricia. Truth IS necessary. Bravissima!

  2. Thanks for revealing your personal experience with the Israeli/Palestinian “Troubles” and for sharing the wisdom of
    Dr. Mohammed Dajani, professor at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.
    I so appreciate your writing!

Comments are closed.