Boulder's elected officials Monday night decided against establishing a sister-city relationship with the Palestinian city of Nablus.
The City Council voted the proposal down 6-3, although council members encouraged supporters and opponents to find common ground and keep working on the sister-city project.
"I am uncomfortable that our community is so up in arms over this and so conflicted," said council member Suzy Ageton. "I would encourage the Nablus group to reach out."
Those behind the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project worked for two years to put it together, saying it could bridge cultures and make residents informal diplomats. But those in opposition say Boulder shouldn't enter into the Middle East conflict.
Mayor Matt Appelbaum said the proposal had merit, but he was concerned that the proponents were supportive of the government in Nablus, making it political.
"I'm not sure I want to attach Boulder's name to it," he said.
Council members Macon Cowles and Suzanne Jones supported the sister-city application. Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Morzel also was generally supportive, saying a "yes" vote wouldn't be picking sides. She also said she would like to see a proposal for an Israeli sister city.
"I don't think peace is going to come from governments," she said. "Peace will only come through getting to know the people you don't like so much."
At the packed meeting, about 70 people gave testimony for about four hours.
Those in opposition to the proposal said the group promoting the sister-city relationship has political motivations and that approving Nablus as a sister city would be choosing a side. The people-to-people efforts can continue without Nablus being recognized as a sister city, they said.
"It is dividing our Boulder community, rather than uniting us to work for peace," said Beth Ornstein, a member of Bonai Shalom.
Others said Nablus doesn't share Boulder's values, pointing to honor killings of women, discrimination against lesbian and gay residents and, in some cases, support of terrorist acts. They also noted that American travel to Nablus is now discouraged.
"Nablus is well known for its terrorism," said Boulder's Mimi Ito. "The culture is one of intolerance, hate and violence."
Those in support said it's not a political endeavor, but instead an opportunity to meet and learn from Palestinians. No other U.S. city appears to have a sister-city relationship with Nablus.
"Boulderites will come to experience a unique culture that we don't have a lot of exposure to in Boulder," said Essrea Cherin, president of the board of the sister-city project.
Several speakers volunteered in Nablus through Project Hope, saying they found the people to be welcoming and generous and never feared for their safety. Others complained that those in opposition are basing their arguments on "racist caricatures."
Sara Fitouri, who taught in a classroom in Nablus, said opponents are casting an entire city as terrorists. Instead, she said, the students she taught have the same hopes and dreams as students in Boulder.
Added speaker Saib Jarrar, "By being separate from us, it's not going to help. By joining with us, you can overcome your fears.
The value here is connection, is openness, is people to people."
Boulder now has seven sister cities: Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Jalapa, Nicaragua; Kisumu, Kenya; Lhasa, Tibet; Mante, Mexico; Yamagata, Japan; and Yateras, Cuba. ___