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Peace platform: NGO seeks to boost tolerance, Holocaust education in Middle East

March 12, 2023

By Sarah Chlala

'We’re trying to shape a new Middle East together, an opportunity that opened up with the Abraham Accords'

A team of intellectuals from several Arab countries gathered in Israel for a week-long program centered around regional and international tolerance, expanding the Abraham Accords, and promoting accurate education about the Holocaust.

Organized by the Sharaka NGO, the first-of-its-kind program welcomed participants from Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to spark a platform of peace, aiming to spread light and tolerance throughout the Middle East.

“Sharaka is a nonprofit initiative meant to be a people-to-people organization,” said Dan Feferman, executive director of Sharaka.

“As our model says, we’re trying to shape a new Middle East together,” he told i24NEWS. “It’s an opportunity that opened up with the Abraham Accords,” the historic pact that saw Israel normalize relations with a handful of Arab states in 2020.

At the event, those present were working to uphold the accords’ concept regionally and internationally, breaking down the barriers of division with dialogue centered on tolerance, and learning about one of history’s darkest chapters, the Holocaust – a subject considered taboo in many parts of the Middle East.

“There are different levels of exposure to the Holocaust around the Arab and Muslim world. It ranges from denial to just a lot of ignorance,” Feferman continued.

“Even talking about the Holocaust in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, in Muslim communities around the world, has become politicized. And we can’t be politicizing history.”

In Muslim-majority Turkey, the Holocaust is recognized, but there’s still work to be done. Enis Aydin, the Turkish representative at Sharaka’s event, aims to endorse the continuation of more inclusive dialogue in the region.

“We are living in the 21st century and one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century is still not recognized by many countries in the region,” Aydin, a researcher and writer, told i24NEWS.

“If you ask why some Middle Eastern countries are still behind with that, there are some reasons. First, antisemitism, which has a long history, and also the reluctance over accepting the whole thesis of Israel.”

For Morocco, history professor Mohammad Hatmi said it’s his duty as an educator to lecture and raise awareness among youth about the Holocaust to reach a brighter and safer future.

“As a teacher, I can guarantee that in Morocco, there’s no one who can deny the Holocaust as a historical event. There are questions about the numbers, and there are some questions about the families,” he told i24NEWS.

Samir Hamek, a French-Arab international relations analyst, said that even though teaching the holocaust is not part of the curriculum in the Middle East, a few countries like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates are getting on board and starting to implement it in their educational programs.

“A lot of Middle Eastern public opinion doesn’t know about the existence of the Holocaust,” Hamek explained. “Another part of Middle Eastern public opinion knows but denies the Holocaust’s existence. Another part just thinks it’s a fake theory.” 

It’s a similar story in Bahrain. But Khulood al-Sabbagh, a Bahraini student of the Hebrew language, has promised to use her social media presence to shake things up.

"We are not educated about the Holocaust and the Jews,” she urged. "Because of the Abraham Accords, now people are open to Israel and the Jews." 

"When I go back to Bahrain, I will use social media and post about the Holocaust. There is no reason to kill a human being,” she told i24NEWS.

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