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Palestinian sister-city proposal stokes ire in Colorado Open in fullscreen

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Palestinian sister-city proposal stokes ire in Colorado

Nablus, famed for soap-making and knaffeh, is the northern West Bank's commercial hub [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 April, 2016

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The City Council had to step in after a proposal for a formal civic 'twinning' between Boulder, Colorado, and the West Bank city of Nablus stirred controversy.

A proposal to become "sister cities" with a Palestinian community has stoked such ire that the Boulder City Council is trying to negotiate a truce among its own residents.

The council decided on Tuesday to hire a moderator and convene a citizen panel in hopes of settling differences between two sides arguing about whether Boulder should have a formal sister-city relationship with the West Bank city of Nablus.

Sister-city ties would help combat misunderstandings about Palestinians, said Essrea Cherin, president of the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project (BNSCP).

The entire Palestinian population is unfairly portrayed in the US media as violent because of the actions of a few, she added.

But opponents told the council on Tuesday night that Nablus, a city of about 130,000 residents that is a commercial and cultural centre for Palestinians, was too closely linked with anti-Israel sentiment.

Others have said formal ties would make it appear that Boulder, a city of 103,000 people, was taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An official sister-city relationship would require City Council approval. The council rejected a similar proposal in 2013, citing community opposition and similar concerns that the city - about 30 miles northwest of Denver and home to the University of Colorado-Boulder - would appear to be "taking sides".

Opponents told the council that Nablus was too closely linked with anti-Israel sentiment

Boulder spokesperson Sarah Huntley said the city has received about 200 emails, some supporting the sister-city ties, some opposed, and others commenting on whether Boulder should try to resolve the dispute.

"Because of my visits to Nablus I have developed some close friendships there," one supporter said in an email to Boulder City Council.

"I'm grateful that my stereotypical image of Arabs has been replaced, and my knowledge of and respect for Islam has grown."

Promoting international understanding

Becoming a sister city isn't taking sides in the Middle East conflict, Cherin argued, but rather only working for international understanding.

The group has arranged for cultural exchanges
and events [BNSCP/Facebook]

Boulder's rules for such relationships specifically demand neutrality, she said, adding that the group had worked hard to win over their critics, but encountered a surprising level of resistance.

"We were really kind of taken aback to find that they did not shift their views very much," she said.

The Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project has already arranged pen-pal relationships between Boulder and Nablus students, Cherin said.

The group has brought women from Nablus to learn yoga in Boulder and plans to send a yoga teacher there. The group has also arranged for cultural exchanges.

That work will continue, she said, but having a formal relationship with Nablus would allow it to expand through Sister Cities International.

Cherin said she's optimistic Boulder will eventually formalise the relationship because the project has done all the city requires.

"Absolutely," she said. "As far as I can tell, we've met all the criteria... Met and/or exceeded all of the criteria."

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