- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

NAZARETH, Israel A group of prominent Israeli Arabs is journeying 60 years back in time, planning a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz death camp to lay bare one of the festering roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict the difficulty each side has in recognizing the other's suffering.
The trip in May by about 100 Arab intellectuals, athletes and business people is unprecedented in scope and is being planned at a time of great polarization and bitterness created by 29 months of Middle East fighting.
At the same time, Israel is revising its textbooks to give students a better understanding of the uprooting of the Palestinians that resulted from the establishment of the Jewish state.
One of the organizers of the trip to Auschwitz is Nazir Mgally, a 52-year-old Arab journalist from Nazareth, a city of Jews and Arabs in northern Israel. He remembers feeling little emotion during childhood school lessons about the Holocaust because he was more focused on stories of how Jews had stolen Arab land.
It wasn't until Mr. Mgally saw how suspicious Jews had become of Israel's Arabs during the past 2 years of fighting that he began to wonder if the Holocaust was part of the problem.
"One of the main things that pushes Jews and Arabs to be enemies is that they don't think of each other as human beings," he said.
The Holocaust has played a central role in shaping the identity of Israel, a nation at war since it won statehood in 1948. For many Israelis, the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II is an enduring reproach to the world for denying wartime sanctuary to Europe's Jews.
"The Holocaust is everywhere," said Israeli historian Tom Segev. "There's not a single day without some reference to the Holocaust in an Israeli newspaper. It influences views on almost every subject."
Mr. Segev, author of "The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust," said many Arabs resist understanding the Nazi genocide because the "conflict between us is really over who is the victim." He sees the trip to Auschwitz as a sign that at least some Arabs are trying to become part of mainstream Israeli consciousness.
But many Palestinians say that Israel exploits and even exaggerates the Holocaust to justify oppressing them, and that it was the world's guilty conscience that allowed a Jewish state to be set up at the Palestinians' expense.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who are separate from Israel's own Arab community, know very little about the Holocaust. It is not taught in Palestinian schools.
They also contend that Israelis know or care little about their suffering. Even before the Palestinians launched their latest uprising in September 2000, few Israeli Jews ever visited the squalid Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.
But before the uprising broke out, while Israel and the Palestinians were still negotiating peace, Israel's Education Ministry began to address the Palestinians' plight in school programs.
For example, some Israeli texts have changed the way they handle the flight from Israel of about 700,000 Arabs during the 1948-49 war that established the country. In the past, students learned that the Arabs fled in response to calls by Arab leaders to clear the way for Arab armies to invade and massacre Jews. Now they learn that at least some were expelled by the Israelis.

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