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Human rights advocates oppose Ashkelon sister city proposal

by Martha Roberts (norightsnosisters [at]
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.”

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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Margo Schulter (mschulter [at]
In many ways, the question today of Sacramento recognizing Ashkelon/al-Majdal Asqalan as a Sister City is rather like the hypothetical question 50 years ago of likewise recognizing Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1962, Sacramentans might well have wanted to promote racial peace and justice in Birmingham -- that was the year before the famous scenes of police dogs and fire hoses turned on nonviolent civil rights demonstrators, including children.
Today, Sacramentans should want to promote peace in the Middle East based on a truly democratic and inclusive State of Israel, in Ashkelon/al-Majdal Asqalan and elsewhere, with equal citizenship for Palestinian Arabs as well as Israeli Jews.
One part of that peace is the return of those Palestinian refugees who were displaced in the 1947-1949 hostilities and wish to live at peace with their neighbors, as all too many Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews wished even in the middle of this horrible episode. Unfortunately, al-Nakba, a campaign of ethnic cleansing which displaced over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and communities and then illegally refused to permit their return after the truce of May 11, 1949, has prevailed for over 60 years. It's time for this to change.
A balanced accounting will note that some thousands of Jews were also displaced as a result of this conflict and ethnic cleansing, albeit on a much smaller scale. The critical difference is that many have been able to return, rebuilding communities on the West Bank such as Gush Etzion, the site of a massacre in 1948. However, Palestinian refugees have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy a similar homecoming to places such as Deir Yassin, the site of the most notorious massacre of this tragic civil and international conflict.
Equal and pluralistic democracy in Israel as "a state of all its citizens," and the prompt and orderly repatriation of all refugees and descendants who wish it, are two basic building blocks of peace, and foundations for a positive Sister City relationship between Sacramento and Ashkelon/al-Majdal Asqalan.
This agenda applies regardless of what happens with the West Bank and Gaza, although I consider their incorporation into Israel on the same basic of equal citizenship for all residents as the most just and equitable solution, and one fitting the reality of two inextricably linked peoples sharing one land.
If the West Bank and Gaza did become one or possibly two separate entities for a while, by the way, a truly democratic State of Israel (with full citizenship for returning refugees) would be equal vital, since Israel's effective control over the whole territory from the River Jordan to the Sea would remain the political reality. An Israel based on evenhanded power-sharing between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs could hardly continue to oppress the West Bank and Gaza, and reunification could proceed from there with basic human rights, at least, respected throughout the process (emphatically including refugee rights!).
In Palestine/Israel, as in South Africa, global nonviolent intifada must be coupled with a search for constructive solutions. The Sister City debate will hopefully mobilize moral concern and indeed outrage in the direction of creative solutions.
As in South Africa, the details of the solution must be hammered out by the parties. But the rest of us, including members of the Jewish and Palestinian Arab diasporas, can and should bear witness that refugee rights and other basic human rights such as nondiscrimination must come first in seeking a just peace and a better future for Palestine/Israel.
by M. Davison
Couldn't the same argument have been used when Bethlehem was adopted as a sister city? Palestinians, after all, violate the human rights of Ashkelon residents by firing missiles indiscriminately at civilian towns, villages and cities, including Ashkelon, Sderot and more.

An agreement was made when Bethlehem was selected for adoption, now the same people who approved of the agreement are backing out of it by claiming Israeli (Ashkeloni?) "human rights abuses", without mentioning the human rights abuses of Palestinians.

Sounds just a little bit hypocritical to me...
by Jay
The Zionistst packed the hall. Hundreds of them showed up. We didn't stand a chance. But we gave it a good fight
by it will continue
Despite our having met with almost every member of the Sacramento City Council and the outstanding presentations of 14 Palestinian-Americans, members of Jewish Voice for Peace and other Sacramento human rights activists, the Council voted On August 14, 2012 with the Israel lobby and approved Ashkelon as a discriminatory, human rights-violating sister city for Sacramento.

Those addressing the Council in favor of discriminatory Ashkelon included CA State Senator Darrell Steinberg, who is part of a group of California legislators that call themselves the California Capitol Knesset. Representatives of Stand with Us and Christians United for Israel also spoke in support of Ashkelon.

During this five month campaign, we were able to educate members of the City Council and their staffs as well as our community, including through various mainstream print media and TV and radio interviews
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