“Then came phase two: terrorism. Terrorists targeted Israelis both home and abroad – from the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich to the second intifada. The terrorists continue to target Jews across the world. But they have not succeeded in bringing down the Israeli government – and they have not weakened Israeli resolve.
Now the war has entered a new phase. This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimizing it. The battleground is everywhere: the media … multinational organizations … NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.
The result is the curious situation we have today: Israel becomes increasingly ostracized, while Iran – a nation that has made no secret of wishing Israel’s destruction – pursues nuclear weapons loudly, proudly, and without apparent fear of rebuke.”
The idea has taken hold in a number of countries, both in and outside the European Union and the British Commonwealth. For example, Dublin is linked to Nablus, as are Stavanger in Norway and Com in Italy;The Hague, Cologne, Assissi and Athens to Bethlehem; Graz in Austria is linked to Zababdeh; Alessandria in Italy to Jericho and Turin to Gaza; Barcelona is linked to Gaza; Arbizu, in Spain’s Basque region, is linked to in the Marda, West Bank; towns in France have established links with such places as Beit Sahour, Gaza, and Rafah as well as Bethlehem (a generally popular place for twinning, probably owing to its importance for Christians). The heavily Muslim suburb of Leichhardt in Sydney, Australia, has a link with Hebron, and Marrickville, also in New South Wales is officially twinned (since 2007) with Bethlehem, the Marrickville Council pledging to “support the people of Bethlehem in seeking peace and international understanding of their situation”. Dismissing claims that Hamas controlled Bethlehem, Marrickville’s Deputy Mayor stated: "But if you want to say who is truly in control of Bethlehem, which is unfortunately surrounded by Israel's so-called security wall, you could argue that Bethlehem is dominated by Israel more than anybody else. Marrickville Peace Group supported the move." There seem to be comparable developments in the United States.
In fact, the latest attempt to have a British town or city twin formally to a locality in the Disputed Territories is that of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) group in Aberystwyth, in west Wales – a resort in which numerous strictly observant Jews choose to spend their annual summer holidays, incidentally (but never mind their feelings or the money their shopping contributes to a depressed High Street, eh?). What this tiny PSC group lacks in numbers its all-female leadership compensates for in a rather unpleasant fanaticism, often holding regular demonstrations on a town centre corner, swamping tables in the local university’s café with anti-Israel propaganda each week, and writing frequently – upon the slimmest excuse and none – to the local press to slur Israel.
The Cambrian News (14 October 2010) reported (none too clearly, for literary merit, at any rate in English, is evidently not that paper’s strong suit) that the Aberystwyth PSC’s Secretary had written a letter to the Town Council saying: “During the last 12 months we were struck by the encouragement and support that the people of Aberystwyth have expressed for our campaign. What came through even more importantly was people’s eagerness to share their knowledge about the region, and the empathy the majority had with the Palestinians. We very much hope that you will look favourably on our proposal either: a) simply through a resolution to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, or b) to launch a twinning with a place of similar size in Palestine, whereby cultural and educational exchanges could be fostered.”
The newspaper reported that the letter was discussed by the Town Council’s General Purposes Committee, which has stated in its minutes: “It would be prudent to advise the writer that, historically, twinning had been established following a long-term local friendship group, and this was the way to go with this initiative”. The PSC’s letter had claimed that the Town Council in Llanidloes in mid-Wales had twinned with As Sadiwa in the West Bank, and would be “delighted to share their experience”. But Aberystwyth’s Town Clerk, upon investigation, found that the Llanidloes Town Council had rejected such a request. To which the PSC’s Secretary retorted, courtesy of the Plaid Cymru-supporting local paper, which stands ever-ready, it seems, to oblige anti-Israel activists in publicising their cause: “I always knew it to be a friendship link and not a formal twinning; I mentioned it only as another example of grassroots support for Palestine.” It would seem that “grassroots support” is an exaggeration – most shoppers who encounter her group’s street corner demos appear to hurry on past, shunning the leaflets thrust at them, the collection tins for the September Viva Palestina convoy, and the petition that sits atop a table. But in the war against Israel, as in love for Israel’s existentialist foes, all’s fair, it’s clear – and truth is an early casualty.
In 2009, just after Cast Lead, a much-publicised move by a Worcester councillor to have his picturesque medieval cathedral city twinned with Gaza was overwhelmingly approved by the Tory-run Council but was subsequently overruled. Twinning towns and cities can bring much cultural enrichment of a mutual kind, including educational visits and, no doubt, junkets for officials. Such twinning normally takes place between places that have some features at least vaguely in common – Britain’s premier naval city, Portsmouth, for example, has been twinned with its broad Israeli counterpart, Haifa, since the 1960s. But attempting to twin towns and cities for narrow political motives is mean, mischievous, and divisive, and should therefore be stoutly resisted.