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The courage to imagine the other

April 15th, 2014
10:45 AM ET

By Lucky Gold and Christiane Amanpour, CNN

The showdown between Russia and Ukraine demonstrates how hard it is understand the story of “the other.”

The struggle over narratives dates back at least to the time of the Passover – which began on Monday – when Pharoah kept the people of Moses in bondage.

Now imagine a world where imagining the other could mean deliverance for warring sides such as Israelis and Palestinians.

In what may be a first, Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian professor at al-Quds University in east Jerusalem, recently took 27 of his students to Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp in Poland.

The idea was to promote greater understanding between peoples.

And yet Professor Dajani was branded by many of his own people as a traitor.

He proudly calls himself a Palestinian nationalist, but he's also a fan of renowned Israeli author Amos Oz – who appeared on this program four years ago to talk precisely about understanding the other.

He came with a Palestinian lawyer whose son had been killed, and who had commissioned an Arabic translation of Oz's work.

“To know the other side is something important – whether we want to fight him or whether we want to make peace with him,” Elias Khoury told Amanpour. “Knowledge is a light, for good and for bad.”

Oz himself spoke of the importance of translating and understanding the other.

“I am a great believer in literary translations between enemies as a healer, as a method of removing stereotypes and replacing the hated by more complex – not necessarily by love … but it will improve the ability to imagine the other. And I believe imagining the other is a moral quality.”

In an email to CNN, Professor Dajani explained his trip to Auschwitz.

“The goal of this trip was to study to what extent would empathy for the suffering of the other impacts reconciliation and peace,” Professor Dajani said. “How would Palestinian students visiting the Nazi concentration death camps feel about the suffering of the other as human beings?”

“The present conflict is influencing to a great extent the way Palestinians view the Holocaust. It was important to for those who lived in a culture of denial to experience first-hand the realities of the terror and atrocities committed during the holocaust in order to break this taboo.”

“I felt sad for the negative reaction of a vocal minority who still find it hard to face the truth and to confront their demons. This was an educational trip and I do regret that it has been so politicized.”

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Torahox

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    April 17, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  2. Howard Hornfeld

    Now that Hamas has realized it cannot continue its position outside the mainstream Palestinian understanding that Israel is a necessary component of the world economy (and indeed Palestinian economy, as many Palestinians work in Israel), and Abbass even went as far as even stating the Holocaust was a dreadful thing, a new era could be happening, and I propose a workable solution: Jerusalem should become (what it essentially is) an independent Holy State, like the Vatican – the Holy See. The capital of Israel should be Tel Aviv, the capital of Palestine should be Ramallah, and Gaza and the West Bank be two parts of the same State of Palestine, like Alaska and the lower 48, or Kalinengrad and the rest of Russia. Citizens of both States should have equal rights to live where they wish; local taxes pay for local schools, roads, etc., and governments elected by the will of the local residents. If Arabs want to live in Israel, fine – a lot already do. If Jews want to live in Gaza, fine – many did.
    Bythe way, why do people hate the Jews? It was Britain which drew the borders of Israel, and even if one says the "Arab Brothers" hate Jews because of the land grab, why do (non-Arab) Iranians hate the Jews?

    May 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  3. Toppies Van Vuuren

    Thanks Howard. Peace is necessary for everyone to experience a quality life, which is everyone's birth right.

    May 23, 2014 at 10:23 am | Reply

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