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A Palestinian’s Pioneering Project

Last August, the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press transmitted a news feature about a 21-year-old Palestinian who had done what, until then, was almost unthinkable — he had led a group of young Palestinians to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.

“We live so close to them and we need to understand them better if we are ever to live in peace,” the young Palestinian, Mujahid Sarsur, said of his Israeli neighbors. “If we change the way we think about the Holocaust, we can create bridges.”

Mujahid, a native of the West Bank and a Pearson UWC graduate, is a Davis UWC Scholar at Bard College. The AP story about the visit he led was carried by the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers around the world — but it wasn’t the first-ever Palestinian trip to the Holocaust museum. Mujahid had organized the first one the summer before, when he and fellow Bard student Aaron Dean traveled to Palestine to start a small summer camp for local teenagers in Mujahid’s home village, Mas’ha.

“The whole idea was just to sit with them and let them express themselves,” Mujahid said. He and Aaron then spent the next school year organizing and researching an expanded, more ambitious Palestinian Youth Initiative.

Sixteen Bard students, male and female, accompanied them in summer ’10 to the West Bank, where they ran
20-day camps for both boys and girls that featured sports, art, and music in the morning, then open, in-depth discussion every afternoon. Bard students Kendra ChupaCabra and Rosana Zarza Canova helped organize the camp.

“It was a good thing to see, in front of my eyes — that people are starting to understand each other,” Mujahid said.

When newspapers around the world featured the Yad Vashem trip, Dorit Novak, director of the museum’s school for Holocaust studies, was quoted calling it “a blessed initiative.”

“I appreciate,” she said, “their principles, their courage, their curiosity, and their willingness to come, listen, and learn.”