Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Thursday launched an Arabic version of its Web site, including vivid photos of Nazi atrocities and video of survivor testimony, to combat Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world.
Among those featured on the site is Dina Beitler, a survivor of the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews in World War II. Beitler, who was shot and left for dead in a pit of bodies in 1941, recalls her story on the site, with Arabic subtitles.
"Holocaust denial in various countries exists, and so it is important that people see us, the Holocaust survivors, that they'll listen to our testimonies, and learn the legacy of the Holocaust — also in Arabic," said Beitler, 73, at Yad Vashem on Thursday.
Last year, Yad Vashem presented a similar version of its Web site in Farsi, aimed at Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called the Holocaust a "myth" and said Israel should be "wiped off the map." He has also hosted a conference that questioned whether the Holocaust took place.
On the Arab street, many are indeed hostile to Israel, but Ahmadinejad's comments stand out as much harsher than those of any mainstream Mideast leaders.
Arab world expresses its sentiments
A wide range of sentiments toward the Holocaust exists across the Arab world, from simple ignorance about its details to outright denial, to a more complicated belief — often expressed by many Arabs — that the Holocaust did indeed happen but does not justify what is viewed as Israeli persecution of Palestinians.
Nazi literature is accessible in many Arab cities and some of the media engage in anti-Semitic incitement. However, even Iran last year permitted the broadcast of a television miniseries that told the tale of an Iranian diplomat in Paris who helped Jews escape the Holocaust — and viewers were riveted.
Still, Holocaust denial is quite common, said Edward Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
"Students often write their Ph.D. theses denying the Holocaust," he said. "Children are taught by elders that the Holocaust was a hoax. It's widespread in big universities in Cairo, so that means it's probably as common in the small ones in the rest of the country as well."
Problem also exists in Israel
Last March, a poll showed that 28 percent of Israel's Arab citizens did not believe the Holocaust happened, and that among high school and college graduates the figure was even higher — 33 percent.
The poll, conducted by Sami Smoocha, a prominent sociologist at the University of Haifa, surveyed 721 Arabs and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
Raleb Majadele, Israel's lone Arab Cabinet minister, said the Yad Vashem site was imperative in battling that trend. "The Internet is difficult to block with barriers of censorship and hate. From now on, also Arabic speakers will be able to learn the truth about the Holocaust," he said.
Speaking in Hebrew at the ceremony marking the site's launching, he called the Holocaust "a horrific act against the Jewish people, but not just against the Jewish people. It was against humanity, against all nations, against all religions."
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said Arabic-language Holocaust education was long overdue.
"Providing an easily accessible and comprehensive Web site about the Holocaust in Arabic is crucial," he said. "We want to offer an alternative source of information to moderates in these countries, to provide them with reliable information."
Millions visit online site
The site also includes chapters about Albanian and Turkish Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II, a film that documents a recent joint visit of Jews and Arabs to the Auschwitz death camp and a 25-minute video address by Prince Hassan of Jordan.
"All the children of Abraham feel a sense of enormous distress at the Holocaust, which afflicted one of the branches of our interlinked family," he said in Arabic.
In 2007, Yad Vashem said nearly 7 million people, from more than 200 countries, visited its Web site.
Some 56,000 of those came from Muslim countries, including 32,500 from Arabic-speaking countries. Yad Vashem said it hoped the new Arabic site would increase that number drastically and said it had discovered encouraging findings that indicated there was a large demand.