Call for action on Sheffield twinning with Palestine city four years after invitation made

Campaigners for Sheffield to be twinned with the city of Nablus on the West Bank of Palestine are calling for action on the invitation four years after it was made.
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Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine are questioning what has happened to the proposal after the council acted quickly on twinning Sheffield with the war-torn city of Khmelnytskyi in western Ukraine.

Lord Mayor Sioned-Mair Richards welcomed the mayor of Khmelnytskyi Oleksandr Symchyshyn to a full council meeting in December, where both mayors signed a memorandum of understanding between their cities.

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Mr Symchyshyn won a standing ovation after he spoke at the meeting and presented the city with a Ukrainian flag signed by frontline troops he had visited.

Julie Pearn, chair of Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine, handing a letter to the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Tony Downing from the Mayor of Nablus in 2019, inviting the two cities to enter a twinning arrangementJulie Pearn, chair of Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine, handing a letter to the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Tony Downing from the Mayor of Nablus in 2019, inviting the two cities to enter a twinning arrangement
Julie Pearn, chair of Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine, handing a letter to the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Tony Downing from the Mayor of Nablus in 2019, inviting the two cities to enter a twinning arrangement

Julie Pearn from the friends group has a copy of an April 2019 letter from the Mayor of Nablus, Adly Yaish, to then Lord Mayor Magid Magid, inviting “the people of Sheffield to join us in a Sister City relationship to promote cultural understanding, stimulate economic development and foster global cooperation, citizen diplomacy and goodwill”.

As chair of the group, she met the following Lord Mayor, Coun Tony Downing, in June 2019 to present him with the letter. They were pictured together in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour at the Town Hall.

International solidarity

Supporters of the twinning move were due to ask questions at a full council meeting today, Monday, February 20.

The 2019 letter to Sheffield from the Mayor of Nablus, seeking a twinning arrangement between the two citiesThe 2019 letter to Sheffield from the Mayor of Nablus, seeking a twinning arrangement between the two cities
The 2019 letter to Sheffield from the Mayor of Nablus, seeking a twinning arrangement between the two cities
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Julie Pearn has tabled the following question: “Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine welcome the twinning agreement signed between Sheffield City Council and the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi. We welcome the return to public demonstration, on behalf of the city, of international solidarity and the upholding of international law.

“We appreciate the empathy shown by the representatives of our humane city as Ukrainian citizens fight against military aggression, occupation and for the right to life.

“We hope that empathy extends to victims of military aggression and occupation regardless of culture and ethnicity.

“We note the very swift action taken in response to the invitation to twinning by the Mayor of Khmelnytskyi.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, who presented the council with a flag signed by frontline troops he visitedLord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, who presented the council with a flag signed by frontline troops he visited
Lord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, who presented the council with a flag signed by frontline troops he visited
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“We wish to remind the Council that an invitation to twin was made by the Mayor of Nablus in April 2019 and that until now the Council has not even acknowledged that invitation.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

“The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been under occupation and East Jerusalem illegally annexed since 1967. Palestinians have been subjected to ethnic cleansing since 1948, creating millions of refugees.

“An extreme right ethno-nationalist Israeli government claims all the land of historic Palestine from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea. Its state representatives and colonial settlers publicly express genocidal intentions and escalate violence against Palestinians on a daily basis.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, signing a memorandum of understanding between the two citiesLord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, signing a memorandum of understanding between the two cities
Lord Mayor of Sheffield Sioned-Mair Richards in December and the mayor of Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oleksandr Symchyshyn, signing a memorandum of understanding between the two cities

“Can we please have advice from the Council as to how we may get a reciprocal response from the City to the Mayor of Nablus’ invitation and achieve a twinning relationship, an aim which is supported by individuals and organisations all over Sheffield?”

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The move was backed by Sheffield Trades Union Council, Toby Mallinson, National Education Union Sheffield branch secretary, and the Rev Huw Thomas of Christ Church, Pitsmoor.

The council’s difference in approach between the two invitations was also highlighted by Rev Thomas in a blogspot post in December headlined ‘Sheffield’s twin rudeness’ (https://huwnotes.wordpress.com/2022/12/26/sheffields-twinning/).

‘Very nervous’

Ms Pearn, who has visited Nablus with her group, said: “I think they are nervous around this. There’s no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of pressure to silence the truth of what the situation is in Palestine.”

She said that has been added to by the proposed government legislation to to ban local councils and other public bodies from participating in boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel.

A statement from the friends group said: “Supporters of the Palestinian struggle for an end to Israeli occupation understand the terrors experienced under bombing, missile and live fire attacks, the tragedies of displacement, the inability to protect one’s children, and therefore welcome Sheffield’s humane recognition of the Ukrainian people’s plight.

“What they don’t understand is why that same kindness can’t be extended to the Palestinians. One explanation is the differences in media treatment.

“In occupied Palestine children are being forced from their homes, cities are coming under missile and drone attack and farmers are killed on their own land as we write yet this warrants barely a mention in the media. Only an Israeli death leads to a news report.

“A 55-year-old Israeli occupation and the ethnic cleansing which began 20 years before that have created millions of Palestinian refugees, perhaps the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world. It seems only natural that Sheffield the City of Sanctuary should demonstrate its compassion with a hand of friendship to the Palestinians too.”