Arab delegates join the March of the Living for the first time

“Being here today is important for me and for my community”


Delegates from Arab states have travelled to Poland to take part in the March of the Living for the first time.

The group attending the annual Holocaust memorial event included citizens from Abraham Accords signatory states but also from Saudi Arabia and other countries.

The trip bringing visitors to the site of concentration camps was organised by interfaith NGO Sharaka. The group included participants from Bahrain and Morocco, as well as Israel. Syrians now living in Germany also took part in the five-day educational trip.

The itinerary began in the Jewish quarter of Kraków, before the group visited Auschwitz. From there marchers from all over the world made their way to Birkenau on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Saudi Arabian delegate Abdulaziz Al Khamis explained that he wanted to learn about “the human aspect of the Holocaust”, which he said has “no connection to religion or nationality hopes”, and is keen that young people in the Arab world join similar delegations in the future.

Emphasising the importance of “the universal message” of the event, he said: “These lessons are important, especially in the Middle East.”

Fatema Al-Harbi, 30, worked for seven years in Bahrain’s Ministry of Education. She has visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which prompted her to want to know more.

She told the JC: “I noticed people were curious and wanted to know more about the Holocaust and started asking questions, so being here today is important for me and for my community.

“As an Arab, being here to witness the March of the Living is overwhelming and a chance to understand this dark part of history, whilst taking part in raising awareness in our region about the Holocaust.”

Rawan Osman, a Syrian who grew up in Lebanon and now lives in Germany, wanted to learn about the Holocaust and see for herself the history on the ground.

She said that she had grown up hating Jews but now she is learning Hebrew and is interested in learning more about Israel.

Another Syrian-born delegate, Issam Zeitoun, said he had been motivated to take part after seeing Israel offer medical aid to Syrian refugees from the civil war from 2016 to 2018 in Operation Good Neighbour. Having heard “the same stories growing up in the mosques and everywhere”, he has been surprised to see how much his perception of Israel has changed.

While Holocaust denial is still common in the Arab world, Zeitoun explains he has learnt much more about this dark chapter since moving to Germany, where the subject is frequently explored on television.

He said: “It is our moral duty not to forget the Holocaust and the fact that the Mufti Al Husseini of Jerusalem in the 1930s was connected to the destruction of the Jewish people.” He said he feels guilt that Arabs were involved in the Holocaust: “It is not Muslim and not moral.”

Sharaka, which means “partnership”, was founded by young leaders from Israel and the Gulf to turn the vision of people-to-people peace into a reality. It has been building connections between young citizens of the countries that signed the Abraham Accords, at first through online activities during the pandemic, and now increasingly through meetings and delegations.

Also joining the group for the March of the Living was former cricketer Azeem Rafiq, who hit the headlines in 2020 when he made allegations of racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club and was subsequently revealed to have made antisemitic remarks on social media. Mr Rafiq said he wanted to visit Birkenau because he is “passionate about understanding all I can about the Holocaust.

“How it came about, what actually happened and very importantly, to hear the testimonies of the remaining survivors.”

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