By DIAA HADID
Associated Press Writer
RAMLE, Israel (AP) _ An exhibition on Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews during World War II opened in this mixed Jewish-Arab town on Tuesday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the event was overshadowed by tensions from Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.
It was the first time that Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, has hosted a standing exhibition in Hebrew and Arabic. Holding the event in Ramle, a working-class town where thousands of Arabs live alongside Jews, underscored the organizers' goal of improving relations.
Some 20 Arab high school students toured the exhibition, confronted by a picture of strewn corpses in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and then of black-and-white photographs of Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews.
Students were clearly interested. But the Gaza offensive, which ended just over a week ago, was also on their minds.
While Israeli Arabs have citizenship rights, they identify with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The three-week offensive, meant to halt rocket attacks from Gaza, smashed thousands of homes and killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians.
"I'm sad for their dead, but shouldn't we be sad if Jews or Arabs are killed?" asked Amira Abu Ghanem, 16, as she looked at the images of Holocaust victims. She wore a Muslim headscarf and a black-and-white checkered shawl, symbolic of Palestinian identity, on her shoulders.
The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews supported the military assault. But many in Israel's Arab community were angered by images of destruction, wounded civilians and dead children on Arab satellite news channels. During the fighting, police broke up several Arab demonstrations protesting the war.
"They killed innocent children," Abu Ghanem said, as other girls nodded agreement.
The teenagers said they understood the difference in numbers: 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust, but said they wanted their own pain to be acknowledged.
"I'm proud that Muslims helped the Jews and saved them. But we have to respect each other's feelings," said Henadi Abu Shab, 16.
Yad Vashem's chairman, Avner Shalev, said the timing of the exhibit was unintended, since it was planned months ago to coincide with the international Holocaust day. Yad Vashem hosts a much larger ceremony on Israel's annual Holocaust memorial day, which is marked according to the Hebrew calendar and takes place each spring.
Shalev said Yad Vashem does not involve itself in the modern-day Mideast conflict, but said he hoped the exhibition would inspire and provoke discussion.
"There is nothing in common with that period and this bitter conflict that goes on and on ... but if both sides recognize their right to exist, side by side, we'll find a way. This kind of exhibition sheds light, it gives hope of the humanity of human beings," Shalev said.
Yad Vashem has honored 63 Muslim Albanians for sheltering Jews during World War Two. They are among 22,000 people that the museum recognizes as "Righteous Among the Nations" _ non-Jews who defied their communities and governments to save Jews from death at the hands of Nazis. The exhibition will run for three months in Ramle.
Yad Vashem has a Web site in Arabic, and online exhibits in Arabic.
On the Net: