On Tuesday April 19th the City of Boulder decided to hire a moderator and convene a panel made up of local citizens to evaluate whether the city should move forward in establishing a formal sister-city relationship with Nablus.
The city of Boulder has received approximately 200 emails some in favor of the proposal and some against. Critics say that establishing a formal sister-city relationship with Nablus would give the impression that Boulder was taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We are focused on people to people contact and it’s basically breaking stereotypes and labeling.”
This story was originally published on March 23, 2016.
The City of Nablus in the West Bank is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world at 4,000 years. It’s a city of a similar size to Boulder and is also a university town. Essrea Cherin with the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project says there are many more similarities between the cities “it’s also a city that is nestled into the foothills that are beside the city and I think it’s known in the west Bank to have the friendliest people in all of the West Bank, similar to Boulder.”
The Boulder-Nablus Sister City project is seeking official designation from the City of Boulder. Cherin says the project started in 2011 “we started out slowly by creating opportunities to send citizens of Boulder to Nablus and start to get to know each other and start to get ideas about how the two communities could engage.” In the past 5 years there have been many volunteers and delegations from Boulder that have visited Nablus and visitors from Nablus have visited Boulder. Cherin says that they’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the exchanges.
“People are really curious to learn more about Palestinians. You don’t hear a whole lot about life in Palestine in main stream media. You mostly hear about the conflict that people in the area are experiencing, but you really don’t hear about regular folks doing regular things.”
In 2013, the Sister City Project went before the Boulder City Council to ask for an official designation of being a Sister City. That request was denied and Cherin says that was due to objections from some people in the community who spoke against the proposal. “The reasons that they gave are that it was a divisive issue, it was provocative. If city council approved our application to make Nablus an official sister city, they felt it was akin to taking sides in a political conflict, in an international conflict and they didn’t think that was the role of city council.”
Saib Jarrar, a board member with the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project says that they are going to go back in front of City Council on April 19th to ask them to reconsider the previous decision and to recognize Nablus as an official sister city of Boulder. Jarrar says that they have made some changes that have addressed the concerns that were raised by opponents of the project.
“First we made some adjustments because we realized that we made some mistakes, not because that was our attention, but for the most part it was an oversight.” Jarrar cites a mention of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) that had been on their website “I can tell you that that was not a subject of discussion that we paid attention to, that was not part of our mission, but that is very political and we made a mistake and oversight to not really pay attention to it.” Jarrar says that has been removed from the website and he emphasizes that that the Nablus Sister City Project has no relation whatsoever to the BDS movement, “we are focused on people to people contact and it’s basically breaking stereotypes and labelling.”
Cherin says that getting an official Sister City designation is important for the future of the project as it would allow them to access resources from Sister Cities International, a large non-profit based in Washington DC that awards grants to official Sister City projects. But she adds that it is also a matter of principal as she asserts that the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project has complied with all aspects of (Boulder City Council) resolution 631 which governs Sister City relationships “we’ve met all the criteria and more.”
Cherin says having city council officially recognize the project would lend them some legitimacy “it would allow us a seat at the table. There are 7 active sister cities in Boulder right now and we’re not invited to the sister city activities that the city puts on because we’re not an official member, but we’re doing everything that every other project in the city is doing and more in some cases.”
The Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project will as the Boulder City Council to recognize Nablus as an official Sister City at the city council meeting on April 19th.