Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project
How we got started and some highlights over the years
In the summer of 2011, co-founder Guy Benintendi met with a professor at An-Najah University in Nablus to discuss the possibility of forming a sister city alliance.
Excited by the prospect of twinning their communities in a friendship relationship, Saed, the professor, introduced Guy to the mayor of Nablus at the time, Adly Yaish. This meeting resulted in the mayor inviting the city of Boulder to join with Nablus in a sister city relationship (see letter of invitation from Mayor Yaish to Boulder City Council).
Thus began the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project (BNSCP)!
Once home, Guy partnered with long-time friend, Essrea Cherin, and the two began informing the community of their intentions. The inaugural meeting (with an impressive attendance of over 50 people) was held on September 6, 2011.
Since this meeting BNSCP has progressed steadily towards it’s mission of facilitating lasting bonds of friendship between citizens of Boulder and citizens of Nablus.
Notable steps along the way were:
- Boulder mayor Susan Osborne sent a letter of goodwill and support to the mayor of Nablus that outlined the necessary steps to gain city council approval.
- Interested citizens of Boulder began meeting regularly to form a working committee and discussed ways to connect citizens from both cities.
- Collaboration began with the CU Center for Asian Studies to produce educational workshops about Middle Eastern culture. Topics included Arab history, Palestinian culture, dabke dancing, cuisine, religion, and the significance of water in the Middle East.
- Visits to Nablus in December 2011 and April 30th, 2012 initiated conversations with civic organizations throughout the city of Nablus.
- BNSCP sponsored talks and presentations throughout the community of Boulder with groups such as the United Nations Association Boulder, the Optimist Club, the Boulder Islamic Center, Spiritkeepers Interfaith Fellowship, Sabeel Colorado, and many churches and other civic organizations.
- Outreach to the Boulder community continued with BNSCP at festivals and events in Boulder such as the Boulder Creek Festival and the Boulder Hometown Festival.
- BNSCP facilitated a monthly film series called Palestinian Lives, to help Boulderites familiarize themselves with what life in Palestine is like.
- Complying with Boulder’s Resolution 631 enumerating the criteria by which a group of citizens can create a sister city in Boulder, members obtained recognition as a 501(c)3 charitable organization in the summer of 2012.
BNSCP continued additional relationship-building projects with Nablus during 2012-2016:
- In partnership with Give Back Yoga, Calming Kids Yoga, and the Sacramento-Bethlehem Sister City Project, brought two yoga teachers to Boulder in April 2013 to train in yoga techniques, specifically for working with children and trauma.
- Connected school students with their counterparts in Nablus and fostering student-to-student pen pal relationships.
- Sponsored volunteers with Project Hope, teaching a variety of classes to Nabulsi children and supporting three dozen non-profit organizations throughout Nablus who serve the neediest and most underprivileged populations
- Donated 100 indestructible soccer (futbol) balls.
- Helped to furnish and equip a senior center.
- Collaborated with An Najah University professors with a Fulbright specialist in Early Childhood Education in October 2014.
- Hosted Dean of Education at An Najah University, Dr. Alia Assali, in Boulder for two weeks April 2015 and An Najah University English teacher Salwa in September 2016.
In management and administration terms, the BNSCP:
- Held the first Members’ Meeting in April 2013, voted and approved the first work plan and budget, elected Board of Directors and officers. Essrea Cherin selected as President and Vern Seieroe, Vice President.
- Submitted application to Boulder City Council to request consideration of Nablus becoming a sister city to Boulder in April 2013. City Council conducted a public hearing regarding the application on June 10, 2013, but determined not to approve Nablus as a sister. BNSCP was directed to continue outreach both in Nablus and in Boulder.
- The Board of Directors met in the summer of 2013 and decided to return to City Council once addressing the concerns raised by Council and members of the community.
- Between 2013 – 2016 the BNSCP engaged citizens of both cities to weave bonds of friendships. More than half the board of directors and several members visited Nablus on numerous occasions, many to volunteer with NGOs.
- Directors and active members engaged with citizens of Boulder who had concerns about Nablus becoming a sister city. Many dialogues and conversations were arranged across a spectrum of ideological beliefs held in the Boulder community. These trust-building meetings were designed to develop deeper understanding of each other’s views and perspectives and to foster friendships.
- In December 2015, the BNSCP submitted a new application to Boulder City Council to re-consider Nablus as a sister city to Boulder and were given a date in April 2016 for a public hearing. The application to Council can be obtained at this link.
- Prior to the April public hearing, BNSCP members became aware that many Boulder residents did not believe the dialogues and conversations that had occurred since the fall of 2013 were sufficient either to truly hear their concerns or to deepen their understanding. With this realization, BNSCP leaders requested that Council support an open and public dialogue process to benefit the entire city’s citizenry, by airing these concerns and creating an opportunity to problem solve, in partnership with those holding concerns. (Some of the notes from those dialogues can be found at this link.)
- Council agreed that this would be of benefit and voted to support a public dialogue. Soon after, they put out a call for applicants to participate in a working group.
- 10 members of the community with a spectrum of views on the subject were selected and the dialogues ensued in June 2016. 6 dialogues were held, followed by 3 meetings of a sub-group who were tasked with summarizing the 6 dialogues in a report to Council.
- A significant outcome of the Dialogue process was a very clear Statement of Commitments that addresses the main concerns that had been so far expressed by participants in the Working Group Dialogues.
- Upon completion of the public Dialogue process, Council rescheduled a hearing for Nablus on December 13, 2016. At that time, the City Council voted 7-2 to approve the application.
Next steps on the journey of establishing a formal relationship are to have municipal leaders from both cities sign a declaration of sisterhood and intention to work together to deepen ties between citizens of both cities.
To assist in furthering that aim, the largest delegation from Boulder ever visited Nablus in March and April of 2017. Visitors created dozens of connections with colleagues across a broad spectrum of civil society in Nablus and returned home enriched and filled with full hearts and inspiration to continue sistering activities!
On May 2, 2017 the Mayor of Boulder and Mayor of Nablus both signed an agreement of partnership between the two cities!
More to come!!