Among the groups who visited the Yad Vashem Museaum in Jerusalem on Tuesday was one unusual group: Twenty-seven Palestinian youths from the West Bank who came on their own initiative in order to learn about the Holocaust.
The person behind the initiative is A., a 28-year-old from the Ramallah area.
"I know Israelis," he said. "I attended several meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, but wanted to know more about the Holocaust. I e-mailed some of my friends and wrote about the idea on Facebook. I was surprised by the response. I got more than 60 positive replies from people I didn't know from Ramallah, Hebron and other places."
As expected, not everyone was excited about the idea. "People had a hard time accepting it," A. said. "Some told me, 'A holocaust is happening now in Gaza.'"
Nevertheless, A. assembled a group and approached Yad Vashem for a tour and received a positive reply. Ultimately, only 27 people arrived due to technical reasons, but A. is convinced it won't be the last Palestinian group.
The group's members were mostly students in their 20s and 30s. The others are wage earners, some working in Palestinian Authority institutes. The group even included a former security prisoner who served 12 years in an Israeli prison.
"I believe that the pain is the same pain when it comes to people," A. said. "Most Palestinians and Arabs don't even believe there was a Holocaust. Most Palestinians know Israelis as occupiers and nothing beyond that. Israelis don't know Palestinians and their suffering. I hope this visit will help both our peoples to think ahead. We need to build a common future."
Despite these statements, A. claims he wasn't surprised by the tough images he saw in the museum. "I saw the tough pictures from Auschwitz, but I'm used to images of violence from our reality here," he said.
D., a female resident of Hebron in her early 20s joined the group in order to learn more about the Holocaust.
"As a Palestinian I feel that many of my rights have been robbed – if only for the movement limitations and crossings I had to pass on my way here. If one wants to achieve peace one has to understand the Israelis and their need for an army and security," she said.
The members of the group held a tour of the museum, as well as discussions at the International School for Holocaust Studies.
"They came with an enormous baggage of lack of knowledge and prejudices," their guide Yaniv said. "They knew nothing of the Nazi ideology, and they spoke of the Holocaust in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Yaniv noted he didn't know what effect the visit had on the group but noted that they all left in an "extremely pensive" mood.