Up In Smoke

This weekend, Mohammed Dajani’s car was torched by arsonists outside his home in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Dajani, whose family history in Jerusalem dates back over half a millennium was formerly a professor at Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University. His tenure came to an end in May, after Dajani took a group of 30 Palestinian students to tour Auschwitz, marking the first organized visit by a group of Palestinians to a Nazi death camp. The visit was part of a program organized by Professor Dajani to help Palestinian students understand the historical events that have shaped the psyche of their Israeli neighbors. After the trip, Dajani received death threats, was expelled from the University union, and ultimately tendered his resignation. Now, his car has been incinerated.

Dajani's torched car.

Dajani’s torched car.

Dajani’s work is necessary, productive and inspirational, and there is every reason for the Israeli side to reciprocate. New Israel Defense Force recruits are often taken to places full of Jewish meaning like the Western Wall, Masada, Yad Vashem, and to the national cemetery at Mount Herzl. Why not, for example, take them also to Lydda and Ramle where hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands were exiled during the 1948 War? Or take them to the ruins of Deir Yassin (long ago transformed into a psychiatric hospital) where a massacre of Palestinians that prompted a mass exodus in 1948 took place? These soldiers would visit the places where their fathers and grandfathers had been to carry out the events that defined the psyche of their Palestinian neighbors. Certainly a trip like this would be considered extreme. However, Dajani’s essential work is considered extreme in his circles as well, as evidenced by the reaction to it.

The burning of Dajani’s car comes two months after Jerusalem’s Hebrew-Arabic Hand in Hand bilingual school was also set afire by arsonists. Spray-painted on the school’s walls were phrases like “There’s no coexisting with cancer” and “Kahane was right” (Kahane being a rabbi whose right-wing Kach party was banned from the Israeli Knesset for inciting racism). After the arson, Israel’s then justice minister Tzipi Livni said, “We will not let extremists set fire to the coexistence that still exists”. Sadly, there is very little coexistence in 2015 Israel/Palestine. From the Separation Wall, to the fact that Israelis are banned by law from traveling to parts of the West Bank under Palestinian control, to stringent visa regulations effectively restricting many Palestinians from Israel proper, the opportunities for widespread coexistence have shriveled.

Hebrew-Arabic Bilingual Academy after the arson attempt.

Hebrew-Arabic Bilingual Academy after the arson.

Both of these institutions of coexistence, one in East Jerusalem, one in West Jerusalem, have been targeted with fire in hopes that their efforts will go up in smoke. Incredibly, the day after the fire, the students at the bilingual school went to school in quickly constructed temporarily class rooms. Generous people online are inquiring about a crowdsourcing effort to buy Professor Dajani a new car. In this city that can sometimes seem like an inferno, there is also hope.

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