‘When the twinning conference in Palestine was planned in 2005, there was not yet a date for the Palestinian election. Following a conference in Camden last September, Palestinian delegates wanted to take the twinning movement forward by hosting a conference in the West Bank. The Hamas government had not been elected.
When the conference happened in Bethlehem on 13 April, the new government was in place and Britain, Europe and the US were punishing the Palestinian people for exercising their democratic rights. They were cutting the aid that the occupied people depended on.
Over 120 delegates, British and Palestinian, gathered in Bethlehem with the background of worry about an economy starved of resources. The pressure was on NGOs to build an infrastructure to replace the Palestinian Authority, while it was under Hamas control.
It was important to make it clear that this is a movement about solidarity and human rights, not an attempt to bypass the government that the Palestinian people had chosen.
Palestinian speakers wanted to tell the British people how much this country is responsible for their intolerable situation.
Troubles created in Palestine by Britain started with Lord Balfour and his promise of Palestinian land to the Jewish people in 1917.
“The British Mandate was also an occupation,” pointed out Fouad Kokali from the legislative council. Britain is also taking an active part now in a collective punishment of the Palestinians.
In contrast, the movement to build twinning and friendship links was greeted very warmly.
The mayor of Bethlehem said, “You have a vital role—to protest against the inhuman and intolerable treatment of our people.” Palestinians involved in twinning links spoke of their appreciation of the support and solidarity that they get from their partners, who through visits and projects “build bridges of understanding” as Salah Ayyad, from the Abu Dis Camden committee said.
Practical workshops examined different models of twinning campaigns and ways of organising.
The movement to link Palestinian and British towns, villages and universities is going from strength to strength. Many British groups are making the links – Palestine solidarity groups, church groups, peace and justice and human rights groups, and many purpose-made twinning committees.
The most effective groups are working with a wide range of people in their local area.
By last September’s conference, there were about 20 links of various sorts. The network created by the conference in Britain supported and developed these links. By the end of April there were over 40 links. Now the Palestinian partners have created a network.
We have come away with requests from many Palestinian places seeking new twinning partners and would like to hear from groups in new areas who would like to link with them.’