Dajani could not have predicted the backlash that he would receive for bringing his students to Auschwitz. Dajani was accused of "brainwashing the minds of youth like Socrates." He was informed that he "...should have taken the students to a Palestinian refugee camp rather than to a Holocaust death camp." And he was called a "normalizer...a derogatory epithet in the Palestinian world, used to describe someone who engages in 'normal' relations with Israelis."
After Al Quds University issued a statement distancing itself from Dajani and the students, and fellow faculty members had spoken out against him, Dajani was left with no choice but to reisgn from the university. He resigned, "...to expose the double-talk we live. We say we are for democracy and we practice autocracy, we say we are for freedom of speech and academic freedom, yet we deny people to practice it." Dajani's resignation took effect on June 1.
Dajani's views of Israelis and Jews, the Holocaust, genocide and shared suffering were shaped by harrowing incidents involving his parents. When his father Suleiman underwent chemotherapy appointments at Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, Dajani wrote:
I was expecting that they would be treating him differently--with discrimination--as a
Palestinian, as an Arab, as a Muslim. I found out that this was not the case. They were treating
him like a patient. At the same time, I looked around the hospital and found that there were
many Palestinian patients with Israeli doctors treating them. This helped me to see the human
side of my enemy. It helped change some of my views with regard to Jews and Israelis.
Some time thereafter, Dajani's mother suffered a heart attack near Ben Gurion Airport. Dajani and his brother drove to the airport, without the expectation that anyone would help them, but for over an hour, paramedics tried to revive her. She later died at a nearby military hospital. Dajani remarked:
I was looking at her empty seat and I was thinking about her loss, and how in the morning she
wasn't even sick, and then suddenly she dies. But at the same time, I was thinking about my
enemy who tried to help her. That had a great impact on me in helping me to think in terms of us
and them, and trying to seek a peaceful solution.
Dajani's story is a most incredible narrative. That a Palestinian man born in Jerusalem, deported from Lebanon to Syria in 1975 for radical political views, banned from Israel for most of his life for his connection to the Palestinian Fatah propaganda movement, could become the scholar and advocate for peace and justice that he continues to be today, is nothing short of remarkable.
In the past fifteen years alone, Dajani has been widely involved in efforts to promote reconciliation, training Palestinian and Israeli religious leaders, presenting on the topic of conflict resolution at conferences and universities in over 50 countries, and by teaching about genocide, including the Holocaust, a subject often unacknowledged by Palestinian curricula, to his students. To be clear, he is firmly in favor of the Palestinian cause - an end to the occupation, full recognition of a Palestinian state, and the opportunitiy to live in peace, alongside Israelis - his neighbors, not his enemies. He believes firmly that the way forward is through dialogue, not through violence.
There are some who would argue that this week, with the current conflagration in Israel and Gaza, that it would be inappropriate for a rabbi, a Jewish leader, to speak with any semblance of compassion for a Palestinian man. After all, a rabbi should be promoting the Jewish cause. A rabbi should be telling us how we can help Israel, and reminding us of how many more letters to the editor that we need to write to make sure that Israel is being properly represented in the world media.
A rabbi should be doing all of this, but a rabbi also has a responsibility to teach Jews to see the humanity in other human beings, even among Palestinians. If such an action is perceived as defending Palestinians or highlighting their cause, if such an action labels a rabbi as a "normalizer," then so be it.
Here on the other side of the world, there is no doubt of the pain that all of us are feeling about the current situation in the Middle East. We've heard the news broadcasts, we've read and posted on Facebook, and we feel completely helpless, utterly powerless to effect any real and lasting change. But Dajani's sincere words, actions, and efforts inspire us to move beyond labels, prejudices, and misconceived perceptions of "the other," and of "our enemies." Dajani reminds us of a crucial lesson - that in order to know one another, we have to be able to see each other as human.
A few months ago, a leader from the Peace Islands Institute, an organization dedicated to strengthening civil society and promoting human values, approached me with an opportunity to host an Iftar dinner. Iftar meals are enjoyed every night during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from first light until after sunset. In an effort to enhance dialogue in the greater community, Peace Islands was looking for members of communities to host dinners, as well as members of communities to attend Iftar dinners in Muslim homes. When we heard that five Muslims would be attending, my wife Lisa and I decided to host the event on a smaller scale, in our own home.
Something special happened on Thursday night in our home. On a night where rockets fell over Israel, where Israel prepared to mount a ground offensive into Gaza, when the White House was in lockdown, when nearly three hundred innocent people had been killed by a missile that shot down a plane over Ukraine, five Muslims partook of a date and a glass of water, and began to recite their evening prayers, in our living room. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, we sat down to dinner, engaged in thoughtful conversation, and came to appreciate that there were far more similarities between our peoples than we would have thought.
Was the man who, in preparation for prayers, asked to wash his hands and feet in my bathroom sink my enemy? Was the woman, who is a pediatrician and has an infant child of her own, who traded phone numbers with my wife, my enemy? Was the man who explained his personal prayer practice and appreciated hearing about my own, my enemy?
There are real threats and there are real enemies, but there are also friends, neighbors, and well-intentioned human beings on both sides of this conflict. And we cannot, we must not ever lose sight of this truth. What are the prejudices that we bear in our own lives? With how many Muslims have we had lengthy conversation? How many Palestinians do we actually know personally? As long as we cast one another into categories, and limit each other by labels, our "enemy" will remain a faceless entity - the easiest kind to diminish and demonize.
Einat Wolf, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, said regarding Dajani, "For a Palestinian to come out and support Israel's right to exist today is rare. He considers that he can plant the intellectual seeds for change, even if he is very much alone in the field." Similarly with us, beyond the donations and the awareness of the situation, there may be very little we can do in Israel to make a lasting difference. But that does not preclude us from engaging in efforts closer to home. There is an immense need in our world, in our community, for ongoing dialogue. This is the only way forward, if ever we are to live in peace with each other.
 References to Dajani's story and quotes are taken from Nadine Epstein, "Mohammed Dajani Daoudi: Evolution of a Moderate," Moment, July/August 2014, pp. 23-31, 59.