- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

NAZARETH, Israel — No one talked to him at a recent family wedding, Khaled Mahameed says. Neighbors curse him at the supermarket. A relative accuses him of unwittingly playing into Israel’s hands.

The reason: This Israeli Muslim has embarked on a lonely mission to teach his fellow Arabs about the Holocaust, in which Nazi Germany put to death an estimated 6 million Jews.

Mr. Mahameed’s newly opened Holocaust institute in the biblical town of Nazareth is a modest operation, with occasional lectures. About 60 photos documenting the genocide mounted on the walls.

But the effort is highly unusual if not unique in the Arab world, where the Holocaust often is played down or even denied.

One photo shows a Nazi officer pointing a gun to the head of a Jew who squats at the edge of a mass grave.

“Men like this man settled our land,” Mr. Mahameed told five Arab visitors recently. “We have to understand the very deep trauma of this man.”

Mr. Mahameed, 43, thinks that learning about the Holocaust could help Arabs understand Israel better and ultimately resolve the Middle East conflict.

A few of his neighbors have expressed support for his museum, but it has provoked strong opposition among Palestinians who say Israel used Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s genocide as an excuse to take Arab land.

Underlying this dispute is competition over victimhood, said Tom Segev, an Israeli author on the Holocaust.

“Arabs often feel that if they acknowledge the Holocaust, they give up their claim of being the real victim of this conflict,” Mr. Segev said.

Arab attitudes on the Holocaust are mirrored to some extent by an abiding Israeli indifference to the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians as a result of Israel’s creation.

That indifference also has begun to fracture: A five-part documentary airing on Israeli television delivers a blunt indictment of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Mahameed said his interest in the Holocaust was first sparked by photographs of Nazi atrocities he saw as a young man.

He learned more about it at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he studied sociology and international relations. Along the way, he adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrines of nonviolence.

The final trigger came during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting that erupted in 2000 and led many on both sides to despair that peace could never be achieved.

Mr. Mahameed spent $5,000 of his own money to set up the Arab Institute for Holocaust Education and Research in his law office.

He bought the photos from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and reprinted some in 2,000 glossy booklets and on his Web site (www.alkaritha.org), which offers a discussion forum in Arabic.

The Holocaust ended three years before Israel was founded and largely shaped its identity.

But the price of Israel’s creation was what Arabs call the “nakba,” or catastrophe — the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who became what today is the refugee situation at the core of the struggle with Israel.

Those who stayed put became Israeli citizens, and now number 1.2 million — one in six Israelis.

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