Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project
Summary from Inception through Spring 2017
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 Appendix A for 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. (see Appendix B)
- 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 (see Appendix C) 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, bringing two yoga teachers to Boulder in April 2013 to train in yoga techniques, specifically for working with children and trauma.
- Connecting school students with their counterparts in Nablus and fostering student-to-student pen pal relationships.
- Sending members to volunteer with Project Hope, teaching a variety of classes to Nabulsi children.
- Supporting three dozen non-profit organizations throughout Nablus who support and serve the neediest and most underprivileged populations by donating indestructible soccer (futbol) balls.
- Helping to furnish and equip a senior center.
- Collaborating with An Najah University professors with a Fulbright specialist in Early Childhood Education in October 2014.
- Hosting 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 first its Members’ Meeting in April 2013 and voted to approve its work plan and budget, and elected first 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 it. BNSCP was directed to continue outreach in the community.
- The Board of Directors met in the summer of 2013 and decided to return to City Council again after addressing the concerns raised by Council and members of the community.
- Between 2013 – 2016 the BNSCP continued to engage 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 similarly engaged with citizens in Boulder who had expressed 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 were designed to develop deeper understanding of each other’s views and perspectives.
- 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 hear their concerns or to deepen their understanding. With this insight, the 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.
- 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 (see Appendix D) 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 is planning to visit Nablus in March and April of 2017, to include 12 members of the community. Some of the goals of this visit are to introduce visitors to the city, pair them with professional colleagues, and begin to envision ways of collaborating to enrich both communities.
Letter of Invitation to Boulder City Council to Join in Twinning Relationship
Letter of Response from Boulder’s Mayor Osborne to Mayor Yaish
Boulder’s Resolution 631 for Sister City Relationships
(Full version of Resolution 631)
BNSCP’s Statement of Commitments
In accordance with Sister City International guidelines and Resolution 631 of the City of Boulder and in keeping with the legal requirements of being a 501c3 corporation,* Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project (BNSCP) is explicitly committed to being a non-political organization.
In practice this means at a minimum:
- No activities current or planned by BNSCP will advocate for or against particular political positions and/or policies. BNSCP will not take a side on any political question nor candidate in the US, Palestine or any other related political situations.
- The BNSCP board of directors will ensure that all projects will continue to be carefully selected for their humanitarian, cultural, and artistic contribution and exchange.
- BNSCP will provide information about our counterpart organization and members in Nablus.
- BNSCP will explicitly prohibit the use of our modes of communication or resources from being used as a platform for political advocacy. The Board of Directors of BNSCP will monitor the use of BNSCP programs to guard against the manipulation of messages that promote any anti-Israeli or anti-Palestinian perspectives. If such messages are found, the Board of BNSCP will take corrective actions.
- BNSCP board of directors will maintain editorial control over all official communications and monitor posting to BNSCP website and will exclude inappropriate and insensitive materials. BNSCP will avoid the posting of images promoting or glorifying violence.
- Blog and other potential postings on BNSCP website, FaceBook page, or other forums will include the disclaimer: “This letter/report/ photo/presentation was prepared or offered by _________________ in her/his personal capacity. The
BNSCP’s Statement of Commitments, cont’d
opinions expressed in this letter/article/presentation/photo are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project.”
- BNSCP will make sensitivity awareness training a prerequisite for delegations to either city to promote understanding of how messages may be interpreted, and thus potentially evoking unintended threat, fear and/or sadness.
- In keeping with the spirit of Boulder Council Resolution 1178 (Inclusive Community) BNSCP will continue to promote inclusivity in all its projects, as well as fostering environments where people of different backgrounds and beliefs feel welcomed. This will include the continued nurturing of relationships and incorporating feedback from those who might feel uncomfortable with the Sister City relationship, it’s activities or projects. This will be designed to increase transparency and overcome cultural insensitivities and blind spots. Delegations to either city will be encouraged to interact with each city’s diverse populations of differing faiths and points-of-view.
BNSCP will amend the application submitted to City Council to ensure it is complete and sensitive to the many populations in the city of Boulder.
- If desired, BNSCP will work with others to build an explicit process and/or governance structure where concerns may be raised and addressed.
Human Rights Commitment:
While Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Council, and other neutral agencies have not found a systemic pattern of human rights violations by Nabulsis, we are committed to investigating any potential violations associated with our projects and relationships in Boulder or Nablus. We formally state here and in our application an unequivocal support for human rights, and solicit from those with whom we work likewise a declaration of support for human rights.
In practice this means at a minimum:
- In addition to Resolution 631’s requirement that an authorized representative sign a commitment to international human rights standards, the BNSCP Board of Directors and principal counterparts in Nablus will sign the same.
- If desired, the Board of Directors of BNSCP will work with members of the wider Boulder community to develop a set of standards for identifying and assessing
BNSCP’s Statement of Commitments, cont’d
potential violations and indicators for progress in human rights and inclusiveness in both Nablus and Boulder.
- In the annual report to City Council, BNSCP will devote a specific section on the relationship of our activities to human rights.
*”Being “501(c)(3)” means that a particular nonprofit organization has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt, charitable organization. “Charitable” is broadly defined as being established for purposes that are religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering of national or international amateur sports, or prevention of cruelty to animals and children.”