When Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a Palestinian professor at Al-Quds University in occupied Jerusalem, organized a trip for his students to visit several former Nazi concentration camps, he sparked an important debate.
Unfortunately, the debate has been one-sided — focusing on Arab denial of the Holocaust while ignoring Israeli denial of their oppression of Palestinian rights.
The Holocaust did happen. More than 6 million Jews were murdered in gas chambers and their remains were incinerated in ovens.
So why do some Arabs deny the Holocaust? Most are angry because they believe the political movement of the Jewish people, Zionism, exploited the Holocaust to browbeat Western audiences into sympathizing with them over the Palestinian cause.
Many Arabs and Muslims just don't believe the Holocaust happened. They think it is a lie. But for most, the denial of the Holocaust is more about anger than rejection of a historical fact. When you get beyond the anger Arabs and Muslims have against the hypocrisy of the West and Israel's war crimes against Palestinians, most Arabs know the Holocaust did happen.
What they don't get is that the Nazis hated the Arabs as much as they hated Jews, but never got around to exterminating them because Adolf Hitler's Third Reich never lasted the thousand years he intended. It is a certainty that Hitler's racial superiority would have eventually targeted the Arabs and Muslims, as it did more than 12 million other non-Jews, Slavs and Russians during the War.
That human beings abandon their humanity when it comes to their enemies, though, is a sickness that results from conflict. Many Arabs have rejected the Holocaust and Jewish suffering because of the intensity of the endless Middle East conflict.
Arabs wonder, how can a people who suffered such a great human holocaust so easily turn around and brutalize another people?
Israel is not gassing Palestinians. Israel is not incinerating their bodies. Israel is, however, engaging in the oppression of a people purely because of their religion. Palestinians are Christian and Muslims, not Jewish. Israel is trying to force them out of the Holy Land so they can have a "Jewish state."
Many Israelis do not want non-Jews, especially Arabs, to live in Israel. They want to force them to leave. So they have massacred thousands of Palestinians. They have jailed tens of thousands of civilian Palestinians in the Israeli prison Gulag. They have denied basic human and civil rights to Christian and Muslim Arabs. They have taken Christian and Muslim lands. They have expelled Christians and Muslims from Israel and from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They have built a wall around the Palestinians and placed gun turrets and armed military checkpoints throughout. The Israeli-occupied West Bank is an open-air prison of brutality.
But, it is not the same as the Holocaust.
What Israel is doing to Palestinians cannot be compared to what the Nazis did at Auschwitz-Birkenau or Krakow. Yet that does not justify Jews closing their eyes to what their own people are doing to the Palestinians. It doesn't justify Jewish denial of Palestinian rights.
Denial exists on both sides. It's a sickness that comes from a conflict that feeds extremism and grows hatred. We have to stop it on both sides.
Professor Dajani was right to teach his students about the Holocaust. When Arabs understand the Holocaust, they can better understand how to correctly portray Israel's atrocities against Christians and Muslims inside Israel and in the occupied territories.
But the debate Dajani sparked has been truncated. The discussion should be expanded.
It's true that during the war, some Palestinians invoked the Biblical proverb, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and some allied themselves with the Nazis. But no one knew the extent of the atrocities being committed in the concentration camps.
Thousands of Arabs fought during World War II wearing American and British uniforms to defeat the Nazis. My father and uncle were among the American soldiers who fought to liberate Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.
Professor Dajani's trip to Auschwitz was only one part of the story. While Professor Dajani's students learned about the Holocaust, an Israeli professor took his Jewish students to learn about the Nakba. The Nakba is the Arab term symbolizing the Israeli defeat of the Palestinians and the occupation of Palestine's land during the 1948 war.
The Nakba also refers to Israeli brutality against Christian and Muslim Palestinians inside Palestine. That suffering is denied by many Israelis and Jews, and it is just as immoral as denying the Holocaust.
So intense is the hatred of Palestinians by Israelis that Israel has adopted laws to prohibit Palestinians from showcasing Israel's atrocities. It is a crime in Israel to talk about, promote or commemorate the Nakba.
Israelis can deny what they do to Palestinians. But Palestinians cannot deny what the Nazis did to Jews. The two issues are unrelated, but are both crimes.
I hope the debate over Dajani expands to include Israel's hypocrisy. Maybe it will help Arabs to become more strategic in addressing Israel's atrocities and violations of Palestinian civil rights. We don't need Holocaust denial to fight Israel. In fact, embracing the Holocaust and recognizing it for the inhumanity that it was is the first step in exposing the extremism that continues to grow in Israel.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.