Israeli-Arab activist in mission to tackle Iran over Holocaust

An Israeli-Arab lawyer plans to travel to Iran next month to preach his message at an official conference that all Muslims need to appreciate the true magnitude of the Holocaust.

Khaled Mahameed, who started the Arab world's first Holocaust museum in Nazareth, has been invited to address the conference, Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision, in Tehran on 11 and 12 December.

Mr Mahameed said yesterday his challenge to the questioning of the Holocaust by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be: "Do not deny or even argue about the authenticity of the Holocaust ... You are not helping the Palestinian people. You are hurting their cause."

Mr Mahameed was invited to attend the conference after sending copies of articles he had written on Jewish suffering in the Second World War to various Iranian contacts as a correction after the President's views were reported.

He has also established a modest private exhibition in the first floor of his house of 80 harrowing photographs purchased from Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial and museum to the victims of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem, with captions he has translated into Arabic. A leaflet he has written gives a sympathetic and factual account of the horrors.

He said he intended to ask for an interview with the Iranian President in which he would try to persuade him to change his views. He said he had sent a copy of his book, The Palestinians and the State of the Holocaust, to President Ahmadinejad four months ago.

A text on the wall of his museum declares: "The Palestinians are the only people in the world who for the sake of providing shelter to the Jews have paid their homeland as a price for the sins and the deeds of the Nazis."

But Mr Mahameed also believes that Arab understanding of the Holocaust is an important step to a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israel. He is passionate in arguing that Palestinians cannot expect Jews to appreciate the suffering of Palestinians displaced or driven out of their homes in the war of 1948 unless they first start to understand what he is acknowledges is the far greater Jewish catastrophe of the Holocaust.

He also rejects the statement by President Ahmadinejad that Israel should "relocate" to Europe because of European guilt for their suffering. "Israel is a fact on the ground," he said. "You cannot end the problem by switching the button off to the time before the establishment of the Jewish state."

Mr Mahameed, preparing to face harsh criticism for his views when he visits Tehran, was studying the Koran for sympathetic references to the Jews. He said these included depiction of the Jews as victims of persecution by the Egyptian Pharoahs, who killed their children and took their women as slaves.

Mr Mahameed revealed in May last year that his decision to set up the museum, which has its own website, had meant the neglect of his legal practice, a start-up cost of £2,400, the ridicule of some fellow Muslims, the indifference of Nazareth's (Christian Arab) mayor and a deep rift with his own brother.

He said: "People say I am a crazy for making this issue the centre of my life. They should realise that I am serving the Palestinian cause. The world will not see our Nakba [the "disaster" or flight of Palestinians from their homes in 1948] before we could feel for their Holocaust."

Affirming that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, Mr Mahameed's website, www.alkaritha.org, says: "We believe that the Arabs have no adequate information about the Holocaust, or have minimal information ... And because of that the majority of the Arab people denies the Holocaust."

* President Ahmadinejad has told the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, that Iran is ready to consult with Italy on Middle East issues, Mr Prodi's office said yesterday. The letter came a day after France, Italy and Spain presented a Middle East peace initiative, asserting that Europe must try to end years of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

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