Dr. Mohammed S. Dajani, a professor of political science at Al Quds University, was threatened and accused of treason after he led a trip of 27 Palestinian students to Poland to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in March.
The trip was organized as part of a joint program on conflict resolution called “Hearts of Flesh – Not Stone.” As part of the same program, Israeli students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel traveled to the Dheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem, to learn about the experiences of Palestinians living there.
Following Professor Dajani’s return to Palestine, media reports about the trip — including false claims that the trip was funded by Jewish organizations — set off a firestorm of criticism. On-line commentators accused Professor Dajani of treason, and threatened that he should not return to Ramallah or to his university. Al Quds University eventually disavowed the trip, claiming that Professor Dajani and his students had made the trip in a “personal capacity”
Professor Dajani responded to the threats in an April 10, 2014 Facebook post, stating:
“My response to all this tirade is that my duty as a teacher is to teach, to have my students explore the unexplored, to open new horizons for my students, to guide my students out of the cave of perceptions and misperceptions to see the facts and the reality on the ground, to break the walls of silence, to demolish the fences of taboos, to swim against the tide in search of truth, in sum, to advance the knowledge and learning of my students in adhering to the verse in the Holy Quran, ‘And say My God increase my knowledge…’ If there are those who do not see or do not like that, it is their problem not mine.”
“I will go to Ramallah, I will go to the university, I will put my photos of the visit on Facebook, and I do not regret for one second what I did. As a matter of fact, I will do it again if given the opportunity. I will not hide, I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of the suffering I show empathy for are my occupiers. And this is my final statement on this issue.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats to a professor in response to an academic trip designed to provide students with in-person historical education and to build empathy. Scholars at Risk is also concerned about the apparent failure of a university administration to support an academic receiving such threats. State and university authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education personnel from such threats, and to do so in ways that do not undermine academic freedom or autonomy.
UPDATE: On May 18, 2014, Professor Dajani resigned from his position at Al Quds University. Although the university reportedly assigned two bodyguards to protect Professor Dajani, and demanded that student and employee unions rescind decisions barring Professor Dajani from membership, Professor Dajani alleged that the university’s original statement that the trip was taken in a personal capacity sparked on-campus incitement, making the situation worse.