Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
The flags of the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2020.

For the first time in history, a delegation of journalists, academics and influencers from across the Arab and Muslim world — including citizens from states that have not yet signed peace agreements with Israel, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon – came to see first-hand the horrors of the Holocaust and to promote education and awareness of them in their societies.

The delegation was organized by Sharaka, a grassroots organization based in Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, and made up of young social activists from Israel, the Arab Gulf States and others in the region who are dedicated to promoting warm ties and citizen-diplomacy. The group learned about the pre-WWII Jewish community, about the Holocaust, including touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland, and then took part in the International March of the Living, also there, an annual event in which thousands march in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

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“It’s a historic achievement to bring together this courageous group of leaders from around the Middle East to learn about and witness the history of the Holocaust and spread awareness of it to their countries and societies. It is through such engagements that we can truly build warm peace and understanding,” noted the co-founder and CEO of Sharaka, Amit Deri. He said that the idea to participate in the March of the Living, which takes place annually on Israel’s Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, came after the Abraham Accords were signed, on a trip to Israel in December 2020 for young Arab leaders.

Paradoxically, until recently, before the Abraham Accords were signed, talking about the Holocaust was effectively taboo in the Arab world. Holocaust denial is still common and the organization of visits to concentration and extermination camps is routinely condemned. The real danger lies not only in denying that the Holocaust took place, but, worse, in rewriting history, especially by those who oppose peace and stability. Their main motive seems to be to perpetuate hatred and hostility so that the conflict — their raison d’être and possibly also their careers — remains continuous and immortal. The real dispute in the Middle East is actually between two axes: an Axis of Moderation and an Axis of Resistance (to moderation, non-violence, normalization and peace).

The Axis of Resistance is ideological and does not concern states or their boundaries. It is led by the Iranian regime, its affiliates from Arab countries and extremist groups and militias such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood. This axis is opposed to all solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except for the elimination of Israel, and is outspokenly eager to fan the flames of hatred and disinformation, seemingly in the hope of bringing about Israel’s destruction, the sooner the better. The Axis of Moderation, conversely, is pragmatic, political, pro-statehood and is represented in particular by the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. This axis has endeavoured to find solutions to conflicts; it will come as no surprise then that most of these countries have signed peace agreements with Israel or seem disposed to.

As a senior Saudi journalist, Abdulaziz Al-Khamis, one of the participants in the delegation, said:

“We must unite to protect our generations from hatred by showing the truth of the Holocaust through the educational system and by highlighting it in the Arab media. Why is it shameful to focus on the Holocaust in our educational curricula and in our Arab media? Unfortunately, denying the truth of the Holocaust plays into the hands of extremist Islamist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and others.”

Dr. Nir Boms, a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, who also participated in the delegation, agreed with Al-Khamis and clarified:

“Our region has seen so much hate and lives taken, with lives still being lost. It is up to us to bring some understanding and tolerance as an alternative. This message is our lesson from the March of the Living. It is the most important legacy we can share from here.”

“Because of the conflict,” added Dan Feferman, Sharaka’s director of global affairs and a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. “for too long the Arab world has denied the Holocaust, claiming it’s a conspiracy and a tool used by the Jews to justify things related to Israel. This delegation must educate the Arab and Muslim world about the Holocaust.”

Nothing, it seems, infuriates extremist groups or the Axis of Resistance more than bringing them face-to-face with such historical facts, and being able to cast aside all doubt about everything that is going on in Israel and that has been so maliciously and falsely reported

If matters were more peaceful and normal, everyone could go there and see the reality for themselves. This suppression of the truth seems, in fact, the main reason that so many are against normalization and fostering relationships between people across cultural and political divides: they want their own people to see only their version of reality.

Rawan Osman, a Syrian who grew up in Lebanon and now lives in Germany, said she was afraid when she first saw ultra-Orthodox Jews in her neighborhood of Strasbourg. It was not because she believed that the Jews were enemies, she said, but because the strict anti-normalization laws under which she had been brought up in Syria and Lebanon, which forbid any contact with Israelis or Jews, had left their mark.

Mohammad Dajani, a former Palestinian professor at Al-Quds University, had a different experience: he still lives in the midst of the conflict. His life is at risk because of the pragmatic position he chose: to solve the conflict rather than to perpetuate it. It was not easy for him to join this delegation; he was urged, for his own safety and that of his family, not to attend. In the past, for his pro-peace stance, his car has been torched by extremists; his family still can be targeted.

Dajani explained that the situation under Palestinian Authority rule is bad. Textbooks, for example, do not include any mention of the Holocaust, and the word is often used on social media either to deny that it ever existed or to or call it fake. Dajani originally joined Fatah (the PLO), he said, to “liberate” Palestine, but when Jewish doctors and soldiers gave life-saving medical care to his parents, he said, he began to see the humanitarian situation from the other side. In March 2014, Professor Dajani courageously took a group of 27 Palestinian students to Auschwitz; upon their return, the Palestinian media and activists accused Dajani of being a “collaborator” or “agent” of the Israeli authorities, and threatened his employment at the university. After a few weeks of threats, he submitted his resignation, which was accepted. “My letter of resignation to Al-Quds University,” he said at the time, “was a kind of litmus test to see whether the university administration supports academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression as they claim or not.”

In recent years, however, especially since the signing of the Abraham Accords, the situation has changed. They made the voice of the Axis of Moderation louder and bolder. Supporters of the Axis of Resistance can no longer embarrass supporters of the Axis of Moderation, as they have done in the past, simply by accusing them of treason, or for doing nothing for the Palestinians or the Palestinian cause.

The Axis of Moderation and the states involved in the Abraham Accords are trying to strengthen relations between people and enrich their historical and cultural knowledge. A year ago, a permanent Holocaust memorial exhibition, the first of its kind in the Arab world, was opened at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai. It included survivor testimonies, photographs and objects from that time.

This year, His Excellency Ahmed Obaid AlMansoori, the Emirati founder of the exhibition and museum, led this history-making delegation from the UAE to Poland along with Eitan Nichloss, the newly-appointed ambassador of the International March of the Living in the Gulf States. Such delegations that expose people to historical evidence and facts that counter the radicals’ manipulation of history, could go a long way to having a refreshingly positive influence in helping to solve the conflict still underway in the Middle East.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year was marked in many cities across the Arab world — from Manama to Abu Dhabi to Rabat. The US Embassy in Cairo co-sponsored the city’s first-ever official Holocaust commemoration. In 2020, His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, the secretary general of the World Muslim League, led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders to Auschwitz; they repeated the words “Never again” and performed a prayer for the six million Jewish victims.

Peace cannot be built as long as extremism and ideological terrorism exist, and there can be no independent Palestinian state if generations are raised on violence and hatred in the absence of reason and logic. Through the new Abraham Accords, which differ from previous models in that they actively promote peace and prosperity for civil society, there is finally a glorious opportunity for people to see for themselves the reality of the Holocaust, for example, and better understand the dangers of radicalism, intolerance and racism to their own societies.

Written by Dr. Najat Al-Saied, the Media Affairs and Academic Director of Sharaka and Adjunct Professor at AUE specialized in political media and communication. She can be reached at: najat@sharakango.com)

 

{Reposted from the Gatestone Institute site}

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