“The holocaust is a rumor”, proclaimed a Palestine student from the screen of Professor Mohammad Dajani Daoudi presentation, using the Arabic word for rumor, “ishaa”. A concept that is known to some Palestinians about the Holocaust.
Dr. Daoudi, a Palestinian nationalist, who believes in the significance of learning about human suffering and standing up for the truth because “history cannot be erased and it is important to honour all victims”, took a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz and Israeli students to refugee camps to study the impact of evoking empathy for “the other”. Volunteers found out about this controversial trip by word of mouth. It was kept relatively low-profile to avoid the public pressuring these students against going. Unfortunately, the day before they set out, Palestinian and Israeli newspapers published articles about the event and there was public outcry, accusing the Professor of treason for propagating Israeli propaganda.
However, some students still travelled; they began to empathize with the Jewish people who had been gassed and cremated yet remained defensive, arguing that they were still Palestinian nationalists and felt distress only for the lapse in humanity that occurred at these sites, as opposed to identifying with the Jewish people. Fortunately, as Dr. Daoudi has shown, one can still be a great supporter of Palestine while accepting the holocaust and the Jewish people’s suffering. “In reconciliation, you must bring the best out of a person.”, he says, reiterating that the only way to solve conflict is to understand both sides.
Dr. Daoudi came to this conclusion after experiencing two profound events that lead him to understand the value of “imagining the other”. First, when his father died and second, when his mother died. Both were treated by Israeli doctors who Daoudi had initially been dubious of, for fear of being discriminated as Arab. Yet, when his father was cared for extensively by Jewish doctors in a Jewish hospital, he first began to respect the idea of unity and; when an Israeli military hospital immediately opened their gates, ordered an ambulance and performed an emergency procedure on his mother as she was dying of an asthma attack, he realised that it was not ‘Us or Them’, it was instead ‘Us and Them’. His mother died that day, but the empathy and unconditional aid the Israeli doctors and soldiers offered, brought out the best in him; he was reminded how frail life was, as he mourned his mother. Since then, he has been fighting for peace between Israel and Palestine.
“Fight against the tide and keep putting more energy into what you believe in” he professed.
Reminiscent of the plenary speaker, Mr. Peter Dalglish’s memory of a young boy who was denied help from a doctor who had taken the hippocratic oath because he was unable to pay, Dr. Daoudi’s talk addresses the need to learn about narratives and continuously gain knowledge, for “it is the light, for good or bad”. He talks about how prior to the holocaust, there was much incitement against the Jewish people, and how history must be told so that it is not repeated, outlining the parallels between 1930 Germany and present day Palestine where there is much incitement towards Palestinians. As Romeo Dallaire, who saw the Rwandan genocide coming and attempted to stop it, we must also acknowledge the imminence of disaster in war zones if we don’t take action soon.
Dr. Daoudi left us with a powerful quote from a fellow Palestinian nationalist, “I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of suffering are my oppressors.”
Written by Anisha Pai