BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- One of the participants of a recent Palestinian delegation to Auschwitz spoke out on Sunday about the ensuing controversy, denouncing "extremists" on both sides for "politicizing" the group's "academic" visit.
Salim Sweidan, a student at al-Quds University and a journalist, wrote in an opinion piece on Ma'an News' Arabic site that he was disappointed with the reactions of some of the Arabic-language media, who he accused of falsely giving the trip "political and ideological dimensions" and "describing the trip as normalization with Israel."
The comments come amid a recent storm in Arabic media regarding the trip of 27 students, which was led by al-Quds professor Mohammed Dajani.
The trip provoked a strong backlash in Palestinian media, as some said it was part of an effort to "brainwash Palestinian students to prepare them to cede Palestinian rights."
Because Israel often cites the Holocaust as a major reason underlying the need for a "Jewish state" in historic Palestine, many Palestinians are sensitive to potential suggestions that the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany mandates or justifies their own dispossession by Israel.
Sweidan, however, highlighted that the trip worked both ways, stressing that a visit of 30 Jewish students from Israel's Ben Gurion University to Bethlehem's Duheisha refugee camp was organized parallel to their trip, but was hardly reported on in Arabic-language media.
"Is this considered 'normalization' as well?" Sweidan asked, referring to the accusation that the trip constituted engagement with Israel as a "normal state" and not an occupying power, a practice frowned upon by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation as well as many surrounding Arab states.
He highlighted that the Israeli trip to Duheisha was intended to teach the Jewish students about the Palestinian narrative of loss during the 1948 Nakba, which involved the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.
He added that both trips were funded by the German university Friedrich Schiller in Jana, and not by Israeli or Jewish sources, as had been reported in some places.
Sweidan said that the reactions by the Arabic-language media empowered hardliners in Israel "to deny the humanistic and cultural nature of the Palestinian people" and to suggest that they would "be happy with a new Holocaust," using this erroneous assumption as a justification for denying the Palestinians' current political rights.
In response, Sweidan called for a "re-evaluation of the war against normalization" and the issue of cooperation with Israeli universities, stressing that by working with Israeli universities it was possible for Palestinians to influence their thinking and to "provoke a sense of guilt as a result of their failure to give Palestinians their rights."
"What about the weekly solidarity of dozens of Israelis in Nilin, Bilin, Nabi Saleh and in other sites of peaceful struggle against the occupation? Or those who refuse to serve in the Israeli army?" he asked in the article, referring to villages where Palestinians lead protests against the Israeli occupation and the separation wall.
"Will they ask Palestinians to boycott them, or to encourage more Israelis to support the Palestinian position?"