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With the Stroke of a Pen, Boulder and Nablus Become Official Sister Cities

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Nearly four years after an initial proposal for partnership, Boulder and Nablus, Palestine, are officially Sister Cities: In a special ceremony on Monday, May 1, Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones and Nablus Acting Mayor Ass’ad Salwalmeh signed the paperwork to cement the pairing, the final step necessary for recognition by and support from the Sister Cities International organization. "Now it’s sort of set in stone," says Essrea Cherin, president and co-founder of the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project (BNSCP), which has been pushing for this outcome since 2013.

The signing officially ends a long conflict in Boulder that wracked two sides of the community: Opponents of the pairing successfully derailed the effort in 2013, with the city council voting against it on the grounds that partnering with such a charged region was driving a wedge in the community. The BNSCP pushed forward to prove that its activities — yoga classes, pen-pal programs, support for a rock-climbing wall — were not aimed at making any comment on politics, but at bringing recognition to and understanding about a culture often misunderstood here in America. Partnering, Cherin told us, when we reported on the conflict in October, "was a positive way of contributing. Sister Cities [is] about creating opportunities to befriend people who are wonderful and have so much to teach us.”

Despite BNSCP's efforts, however, many community members continued to worry that an official partnership with Nablus would play down the regional context around Israel and Palestine, and drag Boulder into a political arena it shouldn't touch. When the BNSCP prepared to go again before the council last spring, it balked at the swelling opposition, asking the councilmembers to instead set up a dialogue, mediated by a city appointee and aimed at finding some common ground. Agreement proved more or less impossible; each side came to the table hoping to convince the other side of its aims.

Convinced it had done what it could to allay its opponents, the BNSCP again went before the council in December, and this time, the council approved the sistering with a 7-2 majority.

Immediately, Cherin sensed a change in relations with her Nablusian counterparts, despite the fact that official paperwork had not yet been signed. "It was already opening doors just having city council approve it," she says. "In Nablus, it really elevated the way that people received us. They recognized that we were serious and committed and dedicated. We’re fully there — it's not just talk."

A delegation of twelve Boulderites spent time in Nablus in March and April, and Cherin says they brought back ideas for how to expand and enhance the BNSCP programming, from broadening the pen-pal program to working with a center for people with disabilities. Some of those proposals will go before the BNSCP board to become official programs.

As for the Boulder opposition, Cherin says she feels it has mostly dissipated, with the exception of a few complaints.

And Cherin emphasizes that this is really only the beginning: "In general, there's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. It's profound how much gratitude there is in the community of Nablus; it's an incredible gift for both communities. We'll see in the years to come exactly what that gift is all about, and I feel personally honored and privileged to be a part of it."

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