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Human rights advocates oppose Ashkelon sister city proposal
by Martha Roberts ( norightsnosisters [at] gmail.com )
Monday Aug 13th, 2012 2:17 PM
Local human rights advocates are opposing the proposal by the Sacramento Israel lobby affiliate. the Jewish Community Relations Council, that Ashkelon, Israel become a sister city for Sacramento, CA. The proposal will be heard by the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 6pm at the new City Hall, 915 I St. Sacramento.
“Allowing Ashkelon to become a sister city with Sacramento violates our community’s deepest humanitarian and egalitarian values,” said Adeeb Alzanoon, a member of the Sacramento Chapter of the Palestinian American Congress. “It makes us complicit with the racism that is systemically practiced in Ashkelon.”

Alzanoon, a refugee himself, explained that U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent with Israel government-issued IDs are prohibited by Israel from visiting Ashkelon except in rare circumstances. In addition, virtually everyone of Palestinian heritage faces extensive interrogation, including strip searching and denial of entry, if they try to visit anywhere in Israel, where nearly all have family ties.

Alzanoon’s family is from the al Majdal Asqalan area, which is today Ashkelon. They were forced out by the Israeli military in 1948 and became refugees in Gaza, where many of them live today. Gaza is under an Israeli military blockade that, according to the United Nations, has created mass unemployment and extreme poverty in Gaza and is a flagrant violation of international law.

It is the discrimination against Palestinian Muslims and Christians that falls short of the criteria from an adopted Sacramento City Council resolution that an Israeli sister city should “be inclusive of the citizens of Sacramento; including the diverse cultural and religious communities in the area,” explained David Mandel of Sacramento’s Jewish Voice for Peace. U.S. born Mandel, who also holds Israeli citizenship, continued, "We would expect our fellow Sacramentans to stand up for us if a proposed sister city somewhere in the world wouldn't allow Jews to visit. How can we not do the same for our Palestinian neighbors?"

“Ashkelon was ethnically cleansed of virtually all its Palestinian population by the Israeli army in 1948-50,” explained long-time Sacramento resident Gary Meyer. “They have not been allowed their right to return and today Ashkelon maintains a racist immigration policy that excludes Palestinian Muslims and Christians. In a city respected for its diversity, this is truly offensive. We want a sister city that all Sacramentans can visit and that isn’t Ashkelon.”

“Ashkelon is not appropriate,” said long time Sacramentan Pete Horn. “More and more Jews, like me, are seeing that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not right. Ashkelon is a lobbying project of the Jewish Community Relations Council to support the current inhumane policies of the Israeli government. The JCRC does not speak for me. I want to see an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and a real democracy in which all citizens are treated equally, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”

“It is interesting that the Sacramento Bee’s editorial on 8-13-12 states that the ‘sister city vote is not forum for Mideast politics’ and then immediately contradicts that by stating that ‘Sacramento should link with Israel’,” notes Meyer. “I also find it troubling that Christians United for Israel, a ultra-fundamentalist group, denounced by main-stream Jews and Christians, is supporting Ashkelon as a sister city.”

“Human rights and International law are routinely violated in Ashkelon,” explains Sacramento talk-show host Jeanie Keltner. “Palestinian political prisoners are tortured in the prison in Ashkelon and they cannot be visited by their families in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

“If Ashkelon is approved, it sends a chilling message to all Arab-Americans, that we are not welcome, that we are second-class citizens,” explains Alzanoon. “As members of a minority community, we must speak out, not just for ourselves but for other minorities, if we can be excluded, so can they.”

Deferring a decision about accepting Ashkelon as a sister city would not be unprecedented. Montgomery County, Maryland recently tabled a proposal to have Beit Shemesh, Israel become a sister city because of community concerns about discrimination and segregation practices there.

Hundreds have signed on-line and hard-copy petitions to the City Council opposing Ashkelon. Among them is retired US Army Colonel and a former US diplomat, Ann Wright, who says: “I believe that until Israel ends its apartheid policies, the separation walls, illegal settlements, and the blockade of Gaza, no American city should become a sister city of any city in Israel. I have visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza many times in the past 5 years and have seen with my own eyes the inhumane treatment that the Israel dishes out to the Palestinians.”