Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yad Vashem Visit Leaves Young Palestinians Deeply Reflective

“I am acquainted with Israelis and I’ve participated in meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, but I wanted to know more about the Holocaust… I sent out an e-mail to a few friends and posted on Facebook, and was surprised by the interest. I received more than 60 positive responses from people that I didn’t even know – from Ramallah, Hebron and other places.”

That is how 27 young Palestinians, in their 20s and early 30s, came to make the trip to Jerusalem to try to understand for the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust. For technical reasons (travel permits etc) only 27 men came on the visit, but “A”, who organized the group, is convinced that there will be another group soon. The young people were mainly university students, and even a former security prisoner who served 12 years in an Israeli jail.

"A" was also criticized for initiating the visit. “People found it very difficult to accept,” he said. “Some said what, now you are working toward normalization with the Israelis?”

Their visit to Yad Vashem included a guided tour of more than two hours in the Holocaust History Museum and several intense hours of discussion in the International School for Holocaust Studies. Yaakov Yaniv, who guided the group in Arabic noted that they came with heavy baggage and with a great deal of ignorance and many pre-conceptions. “They didn’t know anything about Nazi ideology, and they spoke about the Holocaust in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” After speaking to them at great length of the Nazi ideology, Yaniv told them his own personal story, the loss of the majority of his family members in the Holocaust and his own longing as a young child to sit on his grandfather’s lap and tug at his beard. He found it especially important to explain to them that the Holocaust was not simply another political disagreement. Yaniv commented that at the end of the day he doesn’t know how much the visit influenced the group, but he does know that they left with grave reflections.

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