Boulder City Council has voted to make the West Bank city of Nablus in Palestine its 8th International Sister City. After hearing from nearly 80 speakers at a public meeting on Tuesday December 13th, council voted 7-to-2 in favor of the proposal, reversing a no vote handed down in 2013. Nablus joins Boulder’s seven other sister cities including Dushanbe Tajikistan – the most well known because of the Dushanbe Tea House located on 13th Street.
Essrea Cherin is the co-founder of the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project. She has been working for more than five years to convince City Council that connecting Boulder with Nablus is a good idea. Cherin told KGNU’s Roz Brown that being an official sister city opens up several opportunities and lends legitimacy to the organization’s goals. For example, Boulder Valley School children cannot participate in the Nablus project’s pen pal program without sister city status. Also, the Boulder County History Museum has an educational program with area schools that excluded Nablus because it lacked sister city status. Most significantly, Cherin says funding including grants will now be available.
“We want to do some really big projects,” said Cherin. “Something like the Tea House and we couldn’t do it until we had official status.”
Kathryn Bernheimer spoke against the designation of Nablus as a sister city saying it is essentially picking a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s ironic that in doing this the council is sponsoring hate,” said Bernheimer. “Seventy-five percent of the government there is Hamas which is a terrorist organization. What is the message being sent to the people of Boulder? We are taking sides in a war and we have no business taking sides in a war.”
The public hearing on the controversial issue lasted more than three hours. Three of the nine council members voted against the designation including Andrew Shoemaker, Sam Weaver and Jan Burton.
Jackie Sprinces Wong who spoke against the proposal felt council members had made up their minds before the night began.
“They already had this decided,” said Spinces Wong. “It was a waste of our time, our hearts and our souls trying to tell council what it’s like to live in Boulder as a Jew. They totally disrespected us and we have been paying our taxpayer dollars too.”
Zuza Bohley had a unique reason for being in favor of the proposal. She was born behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany during the Cold War to a pacifist family.
“We were persecuted and I was deported at gun point when I was 13 and sold as a political prisoner to West Germany,” said Bohley. “I know what it means when walls are created and there’s no understanding. I believe sister cities and people-to-people interactions are one of the few ways to create understanding.”
Boulder joins just a handful of American cities with sister relationships in Palestine while more than 50 American cities, including Denver, have sister cities in Israel.
Dan Winter says it’s important for Boulder to do whatever it can in its own little corner of the world.
“Things are looking bad for certain people in the world,” said Winter. “They’re being marginalized, ostracized, taken advantage of and what we need is a change in that way of thinking in our little corner of the world and voting to be a Sister City is a way to make that change. Nothing’s ever started without the first small step. We can’t wait for the big powers to take over and do what they think is right – if each community can stand up and say ‘basta’ – enough – then we can move forward.”